There’s a seemingly endless number of plugins available for recording guitar, and as such, picking the best guitar VST can feel like an impossible task. Sure, using the range of stock amps, pedals and guitar-related plugins in your DAW can get you a decent guitar tone – but we want better than ‘decent’. You’ll need to look towards third-party plugins and software for that extra sprinkling of guitar magic, we’re afraid.
Like we said, buying guitar VSTs can be a bit overwhelming at times. There are loads of questions you should be asking yourself before you settle on a certain VST or piece of guitar-related software. Does it sound the way you want? Does it integrate well with your DAW? Can you use it in a standalone setting? These are all questions that need answers before you take the plunge.
It’s also worth questioning how, when and in what musical setting you’re going to use your guitar VST. Will it replace a ‘real’ amp in a practice setting? Will it be used for recording demos? These facts can also heavily influence what type of guitar VST you should buy.
Whichever guitar VST you choose, we’ve got you covered in this guide. We’ve included some in-depth buying advice at the end of this guide, so if you’d like to read it, click the link. If you’d like to get straight to the products, keep scrolling.
Best guitar VSTs: Guitar World’s Choice
It’s hard to choose the best from this list of guitar amp VSTs, to be honest. All the options we cover here are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing – but our overall favorite has to be IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5. It feels the most familiar to use straight away, which is a huge bonus, and the sounds onboard are great too. For heavier tones, ML Sound Lab’s ‘Amped’ software definitely gave us something to smile about, and the Elite version of Positive Grid’s BIAS Amp isn’t too far behind either.
When it comes to effects, there's really nothing that can do what the Valhalla Supermassive does. It's one of, if not the most inspirational, epic sounding delay/reverb available, and what’s even better is that it's totally free. Realistically, it’s so flexible you could use it in virtually any musical scenario possible – not just when recording guitar. It’s a true must-have.
Best guitar VSTs: Product guide
AmpliTube 5 is the benchmark by which all other plugin amp sims should be measured. Some of the amps, like Orange, Fender and Mesa are officially licensed too, so that should mean that they're the best emulations on the market.
Like many of its competitors, there's a rich signal chain builder interface that allows you to combine amps and stompbox models. These models cover not only major brands, but also boutique builders as well, and there's the ability to run multiple cabs and IRs too to build complex, nearly 'impossible' rigs.
Although the Max version isn't cheap, there's a range of tiers available, including a free version with 41 models for you to experiment with.
Read the full IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5 review
With Bias Amp 2 Elite you can load your own IRs, or get Celestion ones with the Elite package. Multi-mic placement allows for tight control of the recorded tone. Apart from that, as the name suggests, there's the ability to switch valves, transformers and re-bias the amps themselves.
Finally, if you have a favourite real amp, you can use Amp Match to create a model of it to use on-the-go or in a time pinch.
Read the full Positive Grid Bias Amp 2 review
Valhalla Supermassive would be one of the top plugins available on the market, even if it wasn't free. The fact that it is just makes it all the more remarkable.
It's got controls for stereo width, warp and rich modulation options for every preset. The preset delays and reverbs go from if not traditional, then at least, adjacent to traditional, all the way to deep space transmissions.
It tops our list of the best free plugins for guitarists, too.
Wider is an incredibly simple free plugin. However, once you've got it, you'll find it sneaking onto every track or mix you do.
All it does is allow you to spread a mono source into stereo, without introducing phase issues. This won't replace techniques like double-tracking for rhythm parts or heavier music, but it will mean that you can find space for mono guitars in a busy mix, or indeed just make the stereo image of your guitars more interesting.
While there are a lot of different tape delay plugins – including ones that ship with amp and effects modeling plugins – we rate this standalone sim.
The Pulsar has an intuitive user-interface and a range of options, including controls for stereo drift, tape age, and tone. Crucially, there's an input drive and output trim that make the Pulsar a pretty good standalone overdrive plugin for guitar. It's often this we use the Pulsar for, as much as a delay.
Being a plugin, there's also the possibility to add repeats and delay lengths that would be physically impossible with the real unit, making it a useful sound-design tool too.
The Amped collection leans towards the heavier end of the spectrum, with models of the 5150, Diezel VH4, Mesa Mark V and Dual Rectifier all present and correct. The lowest gain amp in their line-up is their JCM800, although the clean channels of all these classic amps are faithfully replicated.
There are fewer bells and whistles to the Amped series, but a lot of care has been taken over the core sounds and useful additional features like noise gates - crucial with some of the higher-gain models.
Some of the stand-alone models like bass and ML800 are very affordable if you only need a couple of amps. YouTubers Ryan 'Fluff' Bruce and Stevie T also both have excellent-sounding signatures available for free download. If you can have only one, Fluff's EVH 5150 III is the one to pick.
It may not solely be a guitar plugin, but the Eventide Blackhole is probably the single best reverb plugin available. Based on the preset from the Eventide Space – recently broken out into a pedal of its own – the Blackhole sound is legendary for a reason.
This plugin simply takes that preset and makes it available in your DAW. It sounds equally as good on piano, synths and guitar, although, as the name implies, it's best used for cinematic and ambient sound design.
At full price it's pretty expensive compared to its pedal equivalents, but for much of the year it will be on sale somewhere, and it's not uncommon to find it for a quarter of list price.
One of the most common reasons that an amp and cab sim combination sounds lifeless is that it's not placed within a realistic sounding space. Within the context of recording or playing music with a computer, that means the reverb used.
The Sunset Sound plugin is a faithful reproduction of the studio of the same name, warts and all. The result is a sometimes subtle, sometimes transformative room reverb plugin that can bring to life guitar parts wholly constructed 'in the box'.
Like the Echorec, it's also excellent for gluing together a bus of multiple guitar tracks into a coherent whole.
Though Neural's Quad Cortex has been grabbing all the headlines of late, it's the company's Archetype series of amp models that put them on the map. There's some emulations of specific amps, like the Soldano SLO-100, but they're mainly known for their signature series.
These partnerships, with players like Tosin Abasi, John Petrucci, Tim Henson, Cory Wong, and Nolly, offer tones as serious as the caliber of the players involved.
Not only are the sounds excellent, but the user interface is playful and modern, with a range of additional features, depending on the artist. All have different pre-effects and EQ, while some have time effects, doublers and pitch shifters.
The Helix Native may not be the sexiest guitar plugin on this list, but it's one of the most fully-featured. Essentially the core engine of the powerhouse Helix floorboard and modeller in plugin form, the Helix Native allows for complex routing, with a huge array of amps and effects aimed at being ergonomic to guitar players.
Should you own a piece of Helix hardware, the presets are compatible, but it's doubtful you would be interested in dropping the cash on both, even if Helix Native is discounted by 75% for Helix owners.
Best guitar VSTs: Buying advice
What should I know about guitar VSTs?
You can trust Guitar World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing guitar products so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
Guitar VST formats
Plugins come in many different formats. Which format you choose will be largely influenced by which operating or recording system you are using, due to the fact that plugins that are designed to be used inside a DAW will be based on a few different formats: Steinberg's 'Virtual Studio Technology' (VST), Apple's proprietary 'Audio Unit' (AU) format or Avid's 'Avid Audio eXtension' (AAX).
The best guitar VSTs are slightly different to regular plugins, as they work across multiple formats. This means that they'll work in many different DAWs and across Mac and PC – whereas AAXs only work with Pro Tools and AUs will only work with GarageBand or Logic Pro X.
Can I only recreate amp sounds with a guitar VST?
When we talk about the best guitar VSTs, amps are generally the most often discussed subject. This is essentially down to the fact that changing effects sounds is quite easy and can actually be done affordably in the real world with real effects, whereas having many different amps at your disposal is a very different (and much more expensive) tale.
It's also because we think that finding a good amp sound to support your guitar ideas when recording or jamming is crucial – something which is as true of software as it is with physical gear.
Can I get a good guitar tone without a VST?
You should take note, however, that some of history's most iconic guitar tones have been created by running straight into a desk with no amps, effects or anything else clouding the signal. While having an amp or effect VST open may help you find a nice tone, there's nothing stopping you going rogue and finding your own 'Another Brick in the Wall' moment.
The fun comes from experimenting with all sorts of setups and guitar tones – so go ahead and see what you can come up with.
What about pedals and effects?
There are lots of stompbox modellers – many DAWs even ship with a pedalboard VST. However, we're not going to cover many in this guide, instead focussing on effects not available in pedal format. While these plugins are usually designed with multiple sound sources in mind, not just guitar, most will work well on electric guitar with a bit of EQ adjustment.
Finally, we've also covered a couple of wild-card entries. After all, your holistic goal by working in the box is two-fold. First, to be inspired, and second, to achieve the sound in your head. Getting across that second threshold will require some utility plugins. While we're not going to go down the rabbit hole of EQ or compression, we have suggested a couple of unconventional utility plugins that will change the way you mix guitar.
Find out how we test guitar gear at Guitar World.
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