The first part of this article is for midi guitar VST plugins. If you are looking for amp simulators, use the table of contents to navigate down.
There are so many midi plugins available that are supposed to sound like guitars. Unfortunately, many of them don’t come close to sounding natural. For this reason, we have compiled a list of the best guitar VST plugins available.
Guitar plugins for DAWs are often very specific tools that emulate just one type of guitar. It is unlikely that you will find a guitar VST that sounds like both an electric and acoustic guitar. They also vary by playing style such as picked or strummed.
Having all these options available makes it hard to identify which plugin is best for you. We have handpicked our favorites and explained them in detail. This will help you make an informed decision and avoid wasting time and money.
Ideally, you will have the budget to buy more than one plugin. Having multiple plugins will allow you to get the best possible sound in any situation.
You should read the instructions for any plugin once you have made your purchase. Doing so will allow you to hit the ground running and find it easier to modify your settings as you go.
Acoust6ics by Vir2 is an extremely realistic sounding midi engine for any DAW. There are 6 different types of instruments included in this package. You get 6 and 12 steel-string guitars, nylon, ukulele, guitalele, and mandolin. This is much more varied than many other midi guitar plugins.
Each included instrument sounds amazing. You can tell a lot of effort has gone into capturing the recordings. They used the Blumlein stereo method for recording. This method allows the app to give you control over several parameters. You can control mic distance and perspective as well as volume and panning. You could also use the Piezo pickup perspective if you plan to run more plugins alongside this one.
This plugin also has the benefit of incorporating many different playstyles. You could choose to have the instrument strings picked or strummed with a plectrum. There is also the option to have them played with fingers instead.
There are expressive inclusions such as sustains, mutes, releases, legato, hammer-ons, and pull-offs. These give you complete control over your compositions. Having access to all of these in a single package at such high quality is not a common occurrence.
This plugin uses Kontakt to interact with your DAW. If you use it already it should make installation and starting with this plugin a breeze. Kontakt player is free to use and easily downloaded if you don’t use it already. You can download it here.
This midi plugin has unparalleled strummed chord patterns. There are so many different options available and they all sound very realistic.
It emulates a Martin 0-17 which is a vintage guitar from 1937. It has a tone that is mellow and warm and sounds great. It also has an articulate full sounding 12 string guitar. Having these options makes it very likely you will be able to create the tone you are looking for.
If you prefer a dreadnought style 6 string we recommend the original Strummed Acoustic. It still sounds great but only includes 1 instrument instead of 2 for the same price.
Strummed acoustic 2 has amazing integration with your keyboard. You can use the mod and pitch wheels to change strumming patterns quickly. Use can also use your keys to add accents and change chords voicings on the fly. If you aren’t comfortable using your keyboard you could use the auto-chord feature. This creates the chords for you so you only have to press 1 key.
The easy to use effects make it simple to create the perfect sound for you. Have a listen to the samples on the Native Instruments website to see how well this plugin can fit into any style.
The Session Guitarist Picked Acoustic is also amazing. If you can afford both, it pairs really well with Strummed Acoustic 2. This way you will only have to learn to work your way around one system to use different types of sounds too.
This Plugin emulates a Martin dreadnaught style guitar. It sounds pretty realistic and has a massive amount of presets for picking styles.
This beats the Native Instruments Picked plugin for one reason. This plugin also being able to strum chords as well. This way you get a little more versatility for your money. If we are being honest in terms of sound it is hard to pick between them as they are both fantastic.
The control parameters for this plugin are quite easy to use. It only emulates one guitar but you can get a lot of different tones from the controls. This makes sure you can match the sound you are after.
Ample sound also has plugins that emulate many other types of guitars. They also have plugins based on a Taylor, a Luther, and a few electric guitars. These are all great and we highly recommend them if you have the budget for them. The Martin plugin is our favorite for its tone but you may prefer the Taylor or Luther acoustic guitars.
Another quality acoustic guitar simulator is RealGuitar 5 from MusicLab. It sounds realistic whether picked or strummed but less so than our favorite plugins.
A standout feature that this plugin has that is missing from the others is Nashville tuning. This is a particular type of tuning used particularly in older country music. It is also used in a lot of modern music.
To go with the Nashville tuning, there are many guitar types included in this package. There is a 6 string in both steel-string and nylon as well as a 12 string. The variety of tones make this a very good choice for those of us that need some diversity for our songwriting.
In our opinion, this is hands down the most realistic sounding midi plugin for guitars. It emulates a Les Paul style guitar flawlessly. The Gibson Les Paul is extremely popular in many different music genres. Meaning this VST is capable of anything between shredding heavy metal and soft jazz.
Both of the Native Instrument Acoustic packs are fantastic. This plugin takes what is great about them and combines them into one package. The obvious difference being that the instrument sampled is an electric guitar.
You can use strummed patterns or picked notes. There are easy controls over a variety of factors. Some of these factors include palm muting, flageolet, and tremolo articulations. Each of these articulations can also be set to sound as though it’s played with a plectrum or fingers.
There are plenty of effects included based upon vintage stompboxes. The software does a great job of emulating them and they all sound close to the original. There are so many other controls to adapt your sound too. You will be sure to find the perfect tone for your track if you look hard and tweak some settings.
The Acoust6ics plugin is the most versatile acoustic simulator. From the same creator, Electri6ity has the most instruments to offer in its category. This plugin has even more instruments included with a whopping 8 different guitars.
Having access to 8 different guitar tones means that you can work within any genre. Each of the instruments has been meticulously sampled and sound incredibly realistic.
You are able to use many expressive controls such as ghost notes, mutes, harmonics, tremolo, slide, pull-offs, and hammer-ons. There is a built-in effect rack allowing you to control which amp the guitar gets played through. You can also select and edit any stompboxes you want on your signal chain.
If you plan on writing exclusively heavy stuff with your guitar plugin this is the one we would recommend. It samples the ESP eclipse and as such has some amazing heavy tones.
When you first fire up this plugin there is an almost flat sounding initial tone of the guitar. However, this actually speaks for the quality of the recording. This is what an un-amped electric guitar with high gain pickups sounds like in real life. You will need to use the settings in the plugin to run the signal through a virtual amp and effects to get the tone you are after.
Once amped the clean tones on this plugin are pretty good too. It is impossible to say that they are close to comparing to Native Instruments Electric Sunburst Deluxe though. The crunchy palm mutes and soaring leads are where this plugin shines. Keep that in mind while making your choice. It is less versatile but does what it does extremely well.
The Native Instruments Komplete bundle is fantastic if you have a decent budget. It comes with their best guitar plugins. In the Komplete 13 bundle, you get the Strummed Acoustic and the Electric Sunburst plugin. You also get the newly released Guitar Rig 6 which can work with your real guitar. It can also work in conjunction with the other plugins to use a myriad of different effects. The Komplete package also comes with a bunch of other instruments, effects, and sounds. These inclusions vastly outweigh the cost of this bundle. You can take tracks from inception all the way to completion with mastering plugins too.
The ultimate version has all of their guitar plugin instruments. The only drawback is that it is very expensive. You could definitely justify the cost of this bundle if you plan to use a lot of the other plugins as well. Native Instruments are a big name in the industry so you can trust their software is awesome.
This is our pick for the best guitar VST for a number of reasons. The most important of these is it has so many features and actually sounds like real guitar gear.
The standout feature for Bias FX 2 is its ‘Guitar Match’. This emulates sought after famous guitar tones by using your guitar. This is awesome if you own one guitar but want to use a different tone while playing. You could get your budget Stratocaster copy to sound like a Fender or even like a Gibson Les Paul.
This sim gives you access to so many presets. The list of presets is ever-growing due to the booming popularity of the Spark amp. This amp uses the same presets so you will have access to thousands of user presets. You will be able to find the perfect tone without making changes. You also have complete control over every parameter if you do decide to tweak the settings.
Bias FX is available at three different levels. $99 for Standard, $199 for Professional, and $299 for Elite.
The main difference between these packages is the included amount of effects. For example, Elite comes with 18 guitar match instruments while Standard only has 2.
You can dip your toes in with the standard package and upgrade later but this may end up costing you extra. If you catch the Elite package on special we highly recommend buying it straight up. Even if it is not on special it is still the best package by far and is worth the extra cost.
This VST only just missed out as being our best overall pick. It has fantastic realism and a crazy amount of features. The only negative thing we can say about this simulator is that it may be overwhelming for some users.
You can completely customize your tone to the smallest degree with Amplitube 4. Want to swap out individual speakers on your simulated cabinet? Sure. How about moving the mic placement for that cabinet too? Easy. You can even set a virtual room in which your amp will sit. With these features and a few others, it’s easy to see how this is the most versatile Guitar VST on the market.
There are so many effects included in this package its almost impossible to list them all. One of my favorites is the acoustic guitar simulator. This changes your electric signal into a fantastic sounding acoustic. How fun to shred on your electric with an acoustic tone pouring out at the other end.
Another incredible feature in this package is a built-in 8 track recorder. Perfect to use if you don’t have a DAW already. There is also a looper to practice your soloing chops or to help you write songs.
Amplitube has easy integration with many different types of controllers. IK Multimedia has its own controllers known as iRig. Therefore, Amplitube has seamless integration with the iRig Stomp I/O. This makes this VST great for gigging if you trust yourself not to step on your laptop or iPad.
Amplitude 4 is perfect if you love having total control over your tone. If you aren’t afraid to work your way around the features, this is likely the best choice for you.
This is a real competitor for the Bias FX 2. This is especially true if you can forgo the Guitar Match feature of the Positive Grid simulator.
This VST is a free version of the more versatile Guitar Rig 6 Pro. GR6 Pro is one of the newest and best amp simulators available. Player is a much lighter VST than the paid version. There are many features in the pro version missing from this one. That is not to say that this does not come loaded with enough bells and whistles to get you started.
This VST simulates a single amp type. They call this amp ‘Jump’ which you can tell straight away is based on Marshall JMP amplifiers.
The amp sim sounds great on its own but this free VST also comes with several effects.
It comes with ‘Skreamer’ distortion which emulates an Ibanez Tube Screamer well. It also has modulation, delay, reverb, eq, and dynamic control.
Buying the physical versions of all you get in this package would cost thousands of dollars. It is so good to see you can get an emulated version for free. If you try this out and you like it you can upgrade to Guitar Rig 6 Pro with even more inclusions.
This VST is also part of the Komplete Start package. This package includes most of Native Instruments’ free plugins. The paid version of this package is the Komplete 13 package. We highly recommend you look into this if you are serious about music production and have the budget.
It is nice to see a guitar amp simulator that actually has the name of the real amplifier in its title. This is because Waves partnered with Paul Reed Smith to create these amp simulators. They emulate three of their most popular amps.
The more expensive amp modelers may be as good at emulating metal tones. However, this is our pick for metal tones as many of the factory presets are dedicated to heavy tones. There are signature tones from Megadeth’s producer and others such as Devin Townsend.
This VST is also plenty capable of covering other genres too. You are sure to find a similar tone to your favorite artist especially if you know they use PRS amplifiers.
The three included amp simulators are:
PRS Archon - This is the sim for aggressive overdriven tones. The harder you push it the more delightful distortion you can expect. With its smooth but heavy gain, it is perfect for crunchy rhythm or soaring lead. The clean channel is bright and well balanced too.
PRS Blue Sierra/V9 - This is a rare amplifier that was the original format for the PRS J-MOD 100. It is similar to other American boutique amps. It has brilliant clean tones and is perfect for medium-gain overdrive.
PRS Dallas - Sounds like an American classic reverb amp. It emulates tube amplifiers so has massive sounding cleans with a sparkling reverb. This is the case even with overdriven settings. Luscious highs coupled with meaty mids and formidable lows.
This is the plugin version of the popular Kemper amplifier. It sounds great and has a pretty intuitive user interface.
Having the support of thousands of presets saved from Kemper amplifiers is a nice touch. There is sure to be a tone already out there that matches exactly what you are looking for.
There are packs you can buy that specifically emulate the sound of famous guitarists. This is amazing especially if you are covering that artist. However, the added cost of buying these packs to emulate multiple artists can add up quickly. Before you know it you could have spent thousands.
Given that these costs can add up so easily it is hard to recommend this plugin over buying a Kemper amplifier. You can use the amp as your interface to record. Sure it’s more in outright cost but if you’re looking to spend a lot then you might as well have the real deal.
This is an older style VST guitar amp simulator from waves. You can get some pretty good tones out of it but it doesn't sound as good as some of the newer amp sims in our top picks.
There are over 30 simulated amplifiers and 30 simulated speaker cabinets included. This coupled with 25 stompboxes means there is a huge variety of tones available to you. If you are good at tweaking some of the presets you can meddle with some settings to create great tones.
Waves often do have sales and if you can pick this up cheap it is definitely worth it. Yet, it’s hard to recommend this simulator when compared to the others if you’re paying a similar price.
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