These are software plugins that run on your computer usually inside recording software although many can run as standalone pieces of software. They emulate the sound of real world amplifiers, cabinets and effects that guitarists use on stage or on the studio to amplify and process their guitar tone.
Best Guitar VSTs (2021): The Essential Tones
With software amp modelling you no longer have to drag your amp and cabinet to the studio to get an authentic tone.
The tonal possiblities that these plugins bring are entirely endless. You can start by building your dream rig combining classic amps and imposing cabinets with vintage effects and boutique stomp boxes and then keep on going into futuristic territory for musical genres that haven’t been discovered yet.
You can use these simulations on records and no one would know the difference, that’s how good these are.
Do bear in mind that to use these sorts of effects in realtime, live, while you’re playing you’ll need a decent audio interface plugged into your computer that has very low latency drivers. Otherwise you may encounter a tiny bit of signal delay which will throw you off your rock and mess up your roll. You can also add these effects in over cleanly recorded guitar to avoid any possibility of lag but it all depends on how you like to play and what gives you the best performance.
Our picks for the best guitar VSTs are:
- IK Multimedia Amplitube 5
- Softube Amp Room
- Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro 6
- Line6 Helix Native
- Overloud TH-U Full
- Positive Grid BIAS FX2
- Waves GTR3
- LePou plugins
What Is a Guitar VST?
What's the Best Free Guitar VST Plugin?
Amplitube Custom Shop is a good place to start because it comes with 41 iconic pedals, amps, cabinets, mics and rack effects. It’s a complete guitar tone solution with the same quality as the full version just with fewer options. It’s also really easy to upgrade to just add particular amps or effects you’re interested in to increase the bits of gear 10-fold.
Which Is Best: Amplitube or Guitar Rig?
That’s only a question you can answer for yourself depending on what your needs are. Amplitube is undoubtedly the most comprehensive with all sorts of amps and effects modelled in there covering a vast range of gear. On the other hand Guitar Rig has plenty but also has a creative range of effects and routing possibilities for a more experimental sound. Both will sound fantastic but don’t forget to consider some of the others in our list of the best Guitar VST Plugins.
Best Guitar VST plugins 2021
Let’s dig into the best plugins your guitar or bass could ever wish for.
IK Multimedia Amplitube 5
20 years of research and development has gone into making Amplitube the standard when it comes to amp modelling and software based guitar tone. They’ve modelled over 400 pieces of gear including amps, cabs, speakers, mics, rack and stomp box effects to give you an unparalleled range of tonal options. You can pretty much wire up any rig you could possibly imagine and save it as a preset.
IK uses Dynamic Interaction Modelling to capture every squeak from every piece of gear and version 5 brings in their Volumentric Impulse Response engine to capture over 600 distinct impulse responses per speaker. What does this mean? It means that the sound that comes out the other end of Amplitube is as authentic and genuine as you’re going to get.
You have amps from 7 decades of guitar playing including Fender, Leslie, Orange, Marshall, Vox, ENGL and Roland. You have a mix of official brand endorsed models and IK Multimedia’s own take on classics of both guitar and bass origins. You can of course mix and match amp heads and speaker cabinets from all sorts of eras and genres for that perfect sound.
Amplitube 5 also comes with a Tuner, a Super Looper for instant overdubs and an 8-track studio for recording yourself or your band directly onto your computer.
Amplitube is an incredible tool and you can even start with the free Custom Shop version and a handful of amps and upgrade as you need more or your tastes change.
Street Price: $179
Softube Amp Room
Where other emulations want to give you every tone on the planet Softube prefer to focus on the classics. Every amp, cabinet and effect in Amp Room has been carefully chosen to give you the best possible tone from the greatest gear in existance. Softube has been modelling analogue gear for a long time and Amp Room has an effortless fell about it.
This plugin has been designed in collaboration with Marshall, Tube-Tech, Solid State Logic, Chandler Limited, Empirical Labs, Trident, Weiss Engineering and more using decades of experience and the same approach they employ when modelling classic gear from Abbey Road that was used by the Beatles. This is serious stuff.
You can create a professional workflow that suits your needs with as many serial and parallel signal paths as you want with splits through different amps and effects that all wind up perfectly mixed at the end. This is not just stomp boxes but studio quality high-end processors and console emulations that you would use in a DAW.
One recent development is that when Softube produce a new effect plugin they tend to release an Amp Room version of it so you can run a very diverse range of possiblities from synth emulations and rack effects that you wouldn’t expect to find.
Amp Room doesn’t have the breadth of choice that some others do but this is the choice of the connoisseur.
Street Price: $199
Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro 6
Guitar Rig sometimes feels like it’s playing second fiddle to Amplitude but while they overlap on a lot of territory Guitar Rig excels in the areas of sound design and experimentation. You could say it’s the more creative choice.
Version 6 brings in a load more amps and effects using Intelligent Circuit Modelling which employs machine learning to reproduce circuit behaviour for a new depth of realism and response. They’ve recaptured punchy bass amps, British classics and American boutique amps and pulled out everything from the amazingly clean to the thick metal tones that’ll melt your face. New and improved cabinet responses are provided by OwnHammer and 3 Sigma Audio for making the perfect match for your chosen amp.
It’s in the effects section that things start to get fabulously freaky. Native Instruments has introduced guitar tailored versions of some of their best VST plugins for crushing, modulating, reverbing and supercharging your tones. You have studio quality processing available right within the Guitar Rig interface.
Native Instruments has brought in a whole bunch of inspirational guitarists, bassists and producers to create presets that tear across musical boundaries and points of expression.
Street Price: $199
Line6 Helix Native
This selection of amp models originated in the Line 6 Helix hardware multi-effects processor. Now they’ve brought those tones to the plugin format in the shape of Helix Native.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the interface is a bit boring — they call it “clear and concise.” But once you’ve got over that you’ll find the sounds are superb. The interface is just what it needs to be. As it came from hardware it wasn’t designed with a fake GUI in mind to look like an amp or effect and so with Helix Native, you just get the facts. You can see how the signal chain is working, what the parameters are set to and a good long list of presets.
In the software, you get 62 amplifiers, 104 effects, 37 cabinets, and 16 microphones so you are bound to stumble upon the sound you need for your session if you spend enough time trying them all out. Routing options are versatile and complex, and you can keep loading up the effects and signal chains until you run out of CPU power.
One nice feature is that if you do have the Helix hardware you can share user presets and sound libraries between them. So, you can put your sounds together when recording and take it with you in a hardware floorboard when you gig.
Helix Native is a lot more expensive than most of the others on this list but you do get a lot for your money and it can also work well on other instruments and other areas of the studio.
Street Price: $399
Overloud TH-U Full
TH-U Full contains a massive selection of models. There are 89 guitar amps and 4 bass amps, 50 guitar cabinets and 2 bass cabinets, 77 effects and 18 microphones. It comes with over 1,000 presets that cover every conceivable musical style and you can model in your own amps if you want.
There’s a lot going on in here. Once you’ve spent a few weeks in the presets you could consider running impulses through your hardware rig to capture the response and use it as a software preset — that’s nuts! The Rig Player technology lets you sample in any hardware and reproduce every nuance. If that amp is not sounding quite right then get in there and change the tube; there’s an almost limitless combination of tubes, letting you forge your unique tone.
If microphone placement is your thing then in TH-U Full you can place it in any 3D space in front or behind the cabinet. Their ReSPiRe technology lets you choose between the real response of the cabinet or a specially processed one that is optimized to fit in your mix.
This thing has a crazy amount of depth, more amps and effects than anything, looks fabulous and has a built-in multitrack looper for when you find the time to play your guitar. It’s an extraordinary piece of software for people who love the detail and minutia of crafting tones.
Street Price: $269
Positive Grid BIAS FX2
Positive Grid says that this will turn your computer into an all-in-one guitar powerhouse while remaining simple and intuitive. There are 3 versions: the top Elite version has 100 amps and 100 stomp and rack effects. It can download thousands of more effect pedals from their online community and you create your own and share those with the world. So, it’s pretty comprehensive and yet manages to have an engaging and straightforward interface.
You can build everything from acoustic to high-gain amplifier rigs with full control over microphone placement. The cabinets are provided by officially endorsed Celestion Impulse Responses. Or you can bring in impulses from elsewhere. Then you build your pedal-board or download one from the community.
But there’s one standout feature that needs attention and that’s the Guitar Match. It analyses your guitar and then transforms it into any one of 18 legendary guitars. It’s an extraordinary thing. Your clapped-out old electric could sound like a Les Paul or Telecaster at the touch of a button.
Despite the size and scope of BIAS FX2 it somehow manages to hold it all together better than TH-U Full. The interface is less fussy and some of the effects are beautifully rendered. There’s an awful lot of good stuff in here.
Street Price: $99 up to $299
Waves are the Grand-daddy of plugin makers with a huge roster of effects and signal processing. Their guitar-based offering is called GTR3, has been around a while and contains 4 separate plugins.
GTR3 Amps is inspired by the usual suspects of Fender, Marshall, Mesa/Boogie, Vox and more, giving you 25 modeled guitar amps and 7 bass amps. With its simple amp-head interface you get to pick the amp type, up to 2 cabinets and 2 microphones. Each amp has Drive, Pan, a Phase switch and Delay controls and these are standardized regardless of which amp you start with. The whole thing is simplified and obvious giving you an easy way into the tones without having to learn how to be an Engineer.
GTR3 Stomps is where you’ll find your stomp-box effects. There are 26 models bundled in here covering all the distortion, delay, phasing and fuzz you could want. You can load up to 6 in the rack.
GTR3 Tuner is…. a tuner, which is useful.
GTR3 Toolbox brings it all together in a standalone version that can load up to 2 GTR3 Amps, 6 GTR3 Stomps and the tuner in one piece of software. You can get stuck into the microphone settings and start to craft your sound to a much deeper degree than in the individual plugins.
Waves plugins always sound great and the GTR3 models are no exception. It lacks the pizazz of some of the others, opting for solid usable sounds that are simple to use, leaving you to get on with the playing.
Street Price: Waves GTR3 – $129 but usually on sale for around $49 which makes this fantastic value.
We’ll finish off with a selection of plugins that have achieved cult status amongst computer-based guitarists. Although LePou seems to have disappeared from the developer scene, the plugins are still available and are completely free from the VST4Free.com archive website.
The plugins are individual models of certain amps and preamps with nicely rendered interfaces and impressive sound quality. there are two Marshall modeled “HyBrit” amplifiers, something more like an Engl amp, then a Mesa/Boogie and more. Each has its own set of controls, EQ, multiple channels and inbuilt drive, reverb and distortion, depending on the model.
They are dead easy to use, no deep or crazy functionality, just solid tone and predictably good results.
All street prices listed at the time of writing.