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Best guitar VSTs 2022: transform your home recordings with the leading plugins for guitarists

MacBook Pro displaying Amplitube 3 software
(Image credit: Future)

When recording guitar, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the number of available plugins for guitarists. These plugins will usually come as VST or VST3 files, and offer a huge increase in creative potential over the stock plugins in a DAW (digital audio workstation). Sure, using just the stock plugins in a DAW you can record a professional quality record. However, for guitar-specific sounds, or that extra sprinkling of magic, a third-party plugin is often a revelation. That's where this guide to the best guitar VSTs comes in.

Maybe you're not looking to record, and just want to play without bothering housemates? While there are other headphone options available, a compact interface, DAW and VST combination is a practical solution. Doubly so as you're all set to record your guitar down the line if you decide to.

Either way, we've got you covered with this guide to the best guitar VSTs. Here we'll take your through our top picks, as well as what to look for when considering a new VST.

Best guitar VSTs: Guitar World’s Choice

In terms of guitar amp VSTs, it's hard to choose. All the options we cover here will be indistinguishable from the real thing. For us though, the Elite version of Positive Grid's BIAS Amp has the edge, perhaps just due to our familiarity with it. For some heavier tones, we've become big fans of Amped from ML Sound Lab as well. While the AmpliTube 5 suite from IK Multimedia remains the benchmark, we slightly prefer the interface in BIAS and Amped.

For effects, there's nothing that can touch the Valhalla Supermassive. It's one of the most mind-bending, creative and inspirational delay/reverbs available, and it's totally free. Such is its flexibility and range that you could use it on guitar, synths and vocals on the same song and nobody would notice. If you're making guitar-based music on a computer, it's a must-have. Oh, and it's free!

Best guitar VSTs: Product guide

Best guitar VST: IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5

(Image credit: IK Multimedia)

1. IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5

The guitar VST benchmark

Specifications

Type: Amp/pedal sim

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent amp simulations
+
Officially licensed
+
Huge range of stompbox sims

Reasons to avoid

-
If you prefer having more tweakable parameters on the amps

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.

Best guitar VST: Positive Grid BIAS Amp 2 Elite

(Image credit: Positive Grid )

2. Positive Grid BIAS Amp 2 Elite

We're unbiased of course

Specifications

Type: Amp sim

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent core sounds
+
Huge array of tweakable parameters
+
Create impossible amps, or match your own

Reasons to avoid

-
No pedal sims

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

Best guitar VST: Valhalla Supermassive

(Image credit: Valhalla )

3. Valhalla Supermassive

Seriousy, how is this free?

Specifications

Type: Delay/Reverb

Reasons to buy

+
It's one of the best delay plugins
+
It's free

Reasons to avoid

-
Literally none

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.

Best guitar VST: Polyverse Wider

(Image credit: Polyverse )

4. Polyverse Wider

The stereo gamechanger

Specifications

Type: Stereo widener

Reasons to buy

+
Insanely useful utility plugin
+
No phase issues
+
Free

Reasons to avoid

-
None

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.

Best guitar VST: Pulsar Echorec

(Image credit: Pulsar )

5. Pulsar Echorec

Classic delay tones and additional features

Specifications

Type: Tape delay

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent tape delay emulation
+
Really musical overdrive feature

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Other options are available

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.

Best guitar VST: ML Sound Lab Amped

(Image credit: ML Sound Lab )

6. ML Sound Lab Amped

Simple and powerful

Specifications

Type: Amp sim

Reasons to buy

+
Solid core tones
+
Competitively priced
+
Dynamic feel when playing
+
Two amps are free to try

Reasons to avoid

-
Not many low-gain amps

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.

Best guitar VST: Eventide Blackhole

(Image credit: Eventide )

7. Eventide Blackhole

Go past the event horizon

Specifications

Type: Reverb

Reasons to buy

+
Iconic reverb sound
+
Precision control over reverb

Reasons to avoid

-
Price
-
It's a more experimental reverb

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.

Best guitar VST: IK Multimedia Sunset Sound

(Image credit: IK Multimedia )

8. IK Multimedia Sunset Sound

Classic studio IRs

Specifications

Type: Reverb/IR

Reasons to buy

+
Brilliant IR/reverb for emulating real studio spaces
+
Useful for tracks and mixes

Reasons to avoid

-
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.

Best guitar VST: Neural DSP Archetype

(Image credit: Neural DSP )

9. Neural DSP Archetype

The challenger

Specifications

Type: Amp sim

Reasons to buy

+
Amp sounds are brilliant
+
Additional features are useful

Reasons to avoid

-
Very geared toward signature players

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.

Best guitar VST: Line 6 Helix Native

(Image credit: Line 6 )

10. Line 6 Helix Native

Not to be underestimated

Specifications

Type: Amp/pedal sim

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful amp and fx suite
+
Deep integration with Line 6 hardware

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
You might prefer to just buy the hardware

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

Woman playing guitar in front of her laptop

(Image credit: Future)

What you need to know about guitar VSTs 

Generally, plugins are distributed as VST or VST3s, although some Mac OSX plugins will be Audio Units, or AUs. Though VST – Virtual Studio Technology – was originally a Steinberg-only format, plugin wrapping technology makes it easier for plugin makers to distribute multiple formats. These days, VST is the most common, even on OSX.

When discussing plugins for guitarists, naturally amps and effects are the most exciting subject. Not only are they designed to work with a guitar input signal, but they're already familiar to us as players.

We've mainly focussed on amp plugins in this guide, as the huge spread of options and ease of switching tones is one of the best things about working with guitar tones in software. Finding a good amp to support your guitar ideas when recording or jamming is crucial, and that's true of software just as it is with physical gear.

Even so, remember that sometimes breaking the rules can be even more creatively fulfilling. Many classic studio guitar tones have been created by running direct into the desk, and although we don't cover console preamps in this guide, remember that working 'in the box' means you can experiment with any amp you like... or even no amp at all.

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.

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Alex Lynham is a gear obsessive who's been collecting and building modern and vintage equipment since he got his first Saturday job. Besides reviewing countless pedals for Total Guitar, he's written guides on how to build your first pedal, how to build a tube amp from a kit, and briefly went viral when he released a glitch delay pedal, the Atom Smasher.