I’ve been working on this list for a little while, and I’ve decided to share it here with all of you rather than just emailing it to a few of my nerdy recording pals. This is by no means a definitive list, just a list of some plugins that I’ve been enjoying that don’t cost anything. Check them out, and if you like them please support the creators by clicking their respective donate buttons and tossing them a few shekels. Oh, and by all means if you have something to add to the list please leave a comment with a link.
First and foremost, for those of you out there that are new to the world of VST plugins- don’t be scared! VSTs are a great way to spice up your recordings, and they’re generally pretty easy to integrate into whatever DAW you like to use. My favorite by far is Presonus’ amazing StudioOne, but you can use whatever DAW you choose as long as it is VST compatible. I have also used Logic, Sonar, Reason, FL Studio, Reaper, Cubase, and ProTools with great success. Just find one that suits you and get ready to push the dang red button!
To use VST plugins, generally all you need to do is extract/unzip your downloaded files, and make sure the .dll files for the plugin are placed in the correct folder. Most DAWs have a menu where you can tell the program where to find the files. Like this:
Once you’ve done that, have your DAW rescan the folder(s) for new plugins and you should be good to go.
***A quick but important note before we get started- Make sure you are using the appropriate bit depth version of whatever plugins you are using. If your DAW is 32 bit you can’t use 64 bit plugins. If your DAW is 64 bit you can SOMETIMES use 32 bit plugins, but they can be prone to weird behavior sometimes when using a bit bridge or a wrapper.
First on my list (and for good reason) are LePou Plugins‘ amazing suite of amp sims available over at http://lepouplugins.blogspot.com. Remember that these are just amp sims- they’ll sound super harsh and fizzy unless you run them through a cabinet sim of some type. (there are a few listed farther down)
Le456 is a fantastic sounding Engl sim. If you’ve ever played the real thing, this is even more impressive.
HyBrit is a Marshall-sounding plug that goes from Plexi to Modern JCM TSL type sounds, and adds a really nifty blend control that lets you blend the 2 different inputs of a Plexi circuit. This is my go-to rock sound at the moment.
LeGion is an original creation designed to be used for tight, high gain sounds without the need for a boost in front of the amp. If you want that modern, super driven yet tight guitar sound that is everywhere right now, here’s your new secret weapon.
LeCto is a great sounding Mesa Rec that is mean and nasty just like the real thing.
LeXtac is a killer sounding sim of what is probably my favorite German tube monster of all time, the famed Bogner Extacy.
LeCab is a super low latency Cabinet Impulse loader. For those who have never used one, you insert it in your signal chain where you would normally want a speaker cabinet (after an amp sim) and it will simulate the sound of a cab. As with most Implulse based cab sims you can even use your own impulses!
Next up is NadIR by IgniteAmps. This plugin is a ZERO LATENCY convolver designed for guitar cab emulation. It works fantastically well and is very light on processor use. Highly recommended. These guys also make some really killer amp sims as well as a few pedal sims and a great sounding EQ. Check them out over at http://www.igniteamps.com
The fine folks at Cockos (who are also behind the awesome and affordable DAW Reaper) have made their suite of easy to use and great sounding plugins available for users of other DAWs, for free. ReaPlugs includes compression limiting, EQ, effects, and even FIR filters and a plugin specifically for streaming media. Check it out at http://www.reaper.fm/reaplugs/ Here are a few screenshots and a brief description of some of the plugins included.
ReaComp is a compressor, and a pretty good one at that. Hopefully you all know what that means. (If not, please watch this video made by our pals at Sonic Sense ASAP)
ReaXcomp is a multiband compressor which has been my not-so-secret weapon for mastering for a long time. This type of compressor is very difficult to use, but extremely rewarding when you get it right.
ReaDelay is a multi-tap delay that gives you really great control over lots of parameters. It’s not as simple to use as some other delays, but it’ll do just about any combination of multi-tap delays you would want.
ReaEQ- A super easy to use parametric EQ that allows you to add or remove bands as you need. Lots of freedom here.
I’ll close this post with the plugin I started using the most recently- the TDR Feedback Compressor II. This baby sounds great and I’ve found it to be very easy to get the sound I am looking for whether I’m trying to control transients or just fatten things up. I love this plugin.
One last thing- I would be remiss in not telling you all about http://bedroomproducersblog.com/. They are the single best resource I have found anywhere on the internet regarding VSTs and home recording. Many of the plugins I wrote about are ones I discovered on BPB. Check em out!