They’re a stubborn old lot, guitarists. Though we live in a world where a salvo of superb software can grant access to some of the greatest amplifiers in history, virtual effects rigs that could utterly transform an old axe and a whole lot more, there are still those stick-in-the-muds who reject software entirely.
They don’t know what they’re missing out on, of course. As you’re visiting MusicRadar, we’re going to leap to the assumption that you’re already a smart, software-savvy guitarist. You’ve already got one over the computer-spurners, so don’t overlook this slew of freebies that can add even more colour, power and treatment to your studiously crafted tone.
1. IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5 CS (opens in new tab)
Software guitarists will know of AmpliTube as one of the major players when it comes to virtual amp packages, but did you know there’s a totally free version containing 42 gear models? These include 10 amazing stompboxes, five amps, six cabs and a selection of moveable mics. If you’re a guitarist without AmpliTube, you should crack open this luxurious courtesy hamper immediately.
Amp sims that might be overlooked for being a bit too ‘metal’ include Emissary by Ignite Amps (opens in new tab), a tasty modelling of a tube-amp that features sparkling clean tones, alongside its emphasised crunch, or the fire-soaked NRR-1 (opens in new tab), built by a death metal guitarist and clearly focused on huge-sounding distortion.
Conversely, there’s the slick, tweedy tones of Ice from Shattered Glass Audio (opens in new tab), modelled on a Fender Tweed Champ – many a surf rocker’s go-to. It’s often very fun to go off-road. They’re free after all, so easy-come, easy-go!
2. Mercuriall Metal Area MT-A (opens in new tab)
On the topic of pedals, amp sim heavyweight Mercuriall’s free page is well worth a trawl. Metal Area is a particularly awesome free distortion pedal, modelled on Boss’s well worn Metal Zone MT-2. Though the sonic quality of this distortion is an acquired taste, the company has done a phenomenal job bottling it up here, with heaps of tweak-ability.
3. Impact Soundworks Shreddage 3 Stratus Free (opens in new tab)
Perhaps you’re just looking to add some impactful metal guitar texture to your track, but lack the rock chops to lay it down yourself? Impact Soundworks’ Shreddage 3 Free has you covered. It’s effectively a virtual session metal guitarist that you can direct and manipulate at will. This thing sounds massive, and will give your tracks some cost-free hard-rocking heft.
4. Ample Sound Ample Guitar M Lite II (opens in new tab)
Ample Sound are highly respected for the clarity of their playable sampled guitars, and this free version of their Martin D-41 acoustic guitar sim oozes warmth and sophistication. You can strum, play per‑note or even load in some tablature to get instant accurate playback. There’s endless humanisation options, too. Class.
5. Acon Digital Reverb Solo (opens in new tab)
Reverb is often one of the most tricky effects to apply to guitar effectively. Reverb Solo’s one-knob solution simplifies the process of situating your instrument within the right virtual room, with different sized acoustic spaces smartly rolled through as you scale its singular parameter. A/B testing functionality is mighty handy, too.
6. Apple GarageBand (opens in new tab)
Apple’s free DAW has established itself as a formative piece of music technology for a whole generation of musicians. And, for guitarists on a budget, it’s still a refreshingly slick bedrock with which to capture ideas, process your tone with plugins and develop your track ideas. It’s also loaded with many of Logic’s snazzy pedals within its Pedalboard. Top tier.