- What are amp sims and how do they work?
- Do you really have to spend money to get professional results?
- Here are 15 of the best free amp sims in 2020.
Thanks to modern technology, the days of needing to mic up a guitar amp to get great results are gone. Nowadays, awesome guitar tones can be achieved with a simple plugin, and many let you switch between amps, microphone emulators and even their position in relation to the speaker cone.
What Is An Amp Simulator?
An amp simulator simply emulates the sound of a guitar amplifier with digital technology. They usually come as VST plugins and are designed so the user can just ‘plug-in and play’ via an interface. Sims will vary between manufacturer, but each one is designed to give you an authentic guitar tone without the need for a ‘real’ amp.
Simply plug in your guitar or bass and the software will recreate tones based on real-life amps, producing results that attempt to mimic the sound of the gear they derive inspiration from. The versatility of amp simulation means you can instantly get classic drive tones, gorgeous clean sounds and a whole range of tones that can be recalled with a click.
Why Use An Amp Simulator?
There are numerous reasons for using amp sims, in particular their convenience and cost-efficiency. It’s so much easier to dial in a tone using software rather than meticulously setting everything up yourself. On top of this, once you find the sound you want, you can recreate it perfectly in an instant every time it is needed.
Even those with a fair amount of money to splash around do not have room for a whole array of amps, cabinets, and microphones in their studio. Amp sim plugins mean you have access to all the gear you ever dreamed of, including rare and impossibly expensive equipment.
Noise is also a particularly big issue for bedroom producers who don’t want to disturb their neighbours by cranking a loud Marshall Plexi up at 11 pm. Load up your amp simulator and you’ve got the tone and power of a full tube amp in your headphones.
Aside from volume, using an amp simulator can save you a small fortune in both microphones and room acoustic treatment. Once your guitar passages are recorded, you can still tweak your amp parameters in real-time and not have to worry about going back to re-record or re-amp anything.
So maybe you need to keep the noise down, try out your dream setup, or you’re just looking for some new plugins to add to your collection. Either way, we’re not here to argue the superiority of amps vs software, but we will take you through the best free amp sims available in 2020.
(If you’re recording guitar in a home studio, check out our guide for getting great guitar sounds at home on a budget.)
Rounding Up 15 Best Free Amp Sims In 2020
1. Guitar Rig 5 Player
Based on the Guitar Rig 5 Pro, this version is a completely free ‘watered down’ plugin, although that doesn’t mean there is any compromise on sound.
Guitar Rig 5 Player is a great option for those wanting to dip their toe in the world of amp sims without any financial commitment. With a simple to use interface and foolproof drag and drop layout, the software allows you to create your own custom signal chains with ease.
Rig 5 is available for free as part of the Komplete Start package which (as a bonus!) contains a selection of synths, effects, loops and samples.
Guitar Rig 5 Pro is available for download on the Native Instruments Website.
2. AmpliTube 4 Free
AmpliTube 4 is one of the best free guitar amp simulators available and is essentially a ‘lite’ version of AmpliTube4.
The free version comes with a tuner, 9 stompboxes, 4 amps, 5 cabs and 3 mics. This gives you plenty of combinations as a starting point, but one of the things we love about AmpliTube so much is the way you can customise your own package should decide to purchase the full version.
The paid version allows you to pick and choose your own amps and gear by purchasing ‘Gear Credits’. Your credits allow you to select what gear you purchase meaning you can buy individual items if you are sticking to a budget, although the more you buy the cheaper everything gets.
AmpliTube 4 Free can be downloaded on the IK Multimedia website.
3. Ignite Amps Emissary
If we’re discussing the best free guitar amp sims then this one definitely needs to be included! On first listen, the Emissary could easily be pigeonholed into the category of ‘for metal players only’. However whilst this sim offers crushing distortion, its also great for overdrive and clean tones, adding value for players of any genre.
The Emissary has been modelled on a custom dual-channel tube amplifier which was designed to emulate its hardware counterpart. The amp’s components have been painstakingly recreated digitally to match the original sound without pushing your CPU too hard. The Emissary comes recommended by metal legend Glenn Fricker, so if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us!
Ignite Amp’s Emissary can be downloaded for free at KVR Audio.
4. Blue Cat Audio Free Amp
Whilst the name isn’t as jazzy as some of the other amp sims on our list, the Blue Cat Free Amp makes up for it in tone.
The Free Amp gives you access to tonnes of guitar amp models from crisp overdrives through to brutal modern metal tones. With three amp models included, you’ll be able to tweak your tones with the built-in EQ and also load your own cabinet and impulse responses.
We were really impressed with the Free Amp, which can be downloaded free of charge on the Blue Cat Audio website.
5. Audified ampLion Free
ampLion Free is the (you guessed it!) free version of ampLion Pro, its bigger brother. That’s not to say that the free version isn’t loaded with great amps and effects – there’s more than enough to get you started.
While other amp sims rely solely on impulse responses to do their thing, Audified employs ‘precise circuit modelling technology’ to get as close to the real thing as possible. This means electronic components and voltage are simulated with code, giving you the feel of a live amp.
ampLion Free can also be found in Audified’s free Live Guitar and Bass Bundle LE, which includes additional speaker and amp sims, as well as a huge range of virtual stompboxes for you to play with.
You can find more information on ampLion by heading to Audified’s website.
6. Voxengo Boogex
Although the user interface might not be as visually exciting as other amp sims, the Voxengo Boogex offers a lot in terms of sound.
Included with the download are a host of sound-shaping tools giving you the option to go from jazzy clean sounds to screeching distortion tones. You’ll also have access to an input gate and reverberation module derived from the Voxengo OldSkoolVerb reverb.
If you find the included options lacking, you can check out their list of free downloadable cabinet impulse responses!
Voxengo Boogex can be downloaded free of charge from Voxengo’s website.
7. Shattered Glass Audio Ace
This one is perhaps the quirkiest in our list, and probably not for the metalheads among us!
Ace by Shattered Glass Audio is modelled on a 1950s tweed 5-watt tube amp. Load up the software and you’ll hear a really cool, twangy tone, with bags of character.
If you need a real old-school rock and roll sound, you won’t be disappointed. While this may not become your ‘go-to’ amp sim, it’s certainly worth keeping in the arsenal for adding some extra spice to your guitar recordings!
You can download Ace for free at the Shattered Glass website.
8. LePou Amp Sims
LePou actually offer eight of the best free guitar plugins (each to be downloaded separately).
You get a variety of tones available, from the bright and twangy through to distortion soaked tube sounds, all highly rated. You’ll also be able to download their cabinet impulse response loader. We’re really impressed with this range, and though they are free to download, LePou does request a donation of your choosing to help support their work.
You can download the full range over at VST4Free.
9. Amp ONE for iPad
Ok so this isn’t an amp sim in the same way as a VST plugin, but nonetheless Amp ONE is one of the best free guitar apps available. Amp ONE is an app which turns your iPad into a high-quality guitar amp, meaning you don’t even need a computer or laptop to get great sounds.
The audio is monitored via your headphones and offers an array of sounds from high-gain to classic clean vibes. Download the app and you’ll have access to seven preamp sections based on famous amplifiers, and effects such as chorus, delay and reverb.
Of course, this isn’t quite the same as some of the other free sims on our list, but if you have an iPad you may even prefer Amp ONE to the plugins in your DAW.
Download Amp ONE at the Apple App Store.
10. Nick Crow Lab 8505
Nick Crow Lab 8505 is one of the best free sims available. If you’re looking for high gain metal sounds based on Peavey amps, this plugin does not disappoint.
With a simple to use interface, the 8505 allows you to craft your perfect metal tone. You can go from a chunky crunch through to face-melting distorted lead sounds. While you won’t get quite as much flexibility and customisation as you would with others on this list, this is perhaps the best option for metal guitarists looking for a quality free amp sim!
Nick Crow Lab 8505 can be downloaded at VST4Free.
11. Ignite Amps SHB-1
One for the bassists here, and another on our list from Ignite Amps.
The SHB-1 is a versatile bass amp sim which allows the user to create anything from thick, thudding bass tones through to funky, popping sounds. If you’re recording at home then stick this in your signal chain to beef up your low end.
Included are several switches for tone-shaping labelled ‘Deep’, ‘Bright’, and ‘Shape’ which alter the response of the amp in various ways. This is in addition to more traditional EQ controls for bass, mids, and treble.
The interface is simple to use and currently available for both Windows and Mac at the Ignite Amps website.
12. Peavey ReValver 4
ReValver 4 by amp legends Peavey is an entire suite of cabinets and stompboxes, though not everything here is free. The software comes with advanced cabinet modelling technology, meaning you can customise your own impulse responses, mic placements and speaker configurations.
One of the really unique aspects of ReValver is the ability to host 3rd party plugins. This means if you have a favourite stompbox plugin, or even other 3rd party amp plugins you can expand ReValver and utilise these to create your own tones with almost endless possibilities.
If you’re looking to get more in-depth than just preset simulations, you can dig deeper and begin playing with tube types, resistor values, and more, meaning you can really create a one-of-a-kind guitar amp that is unique to you.
For more information and to download ReValver head to the Audio Media Research website.
13. Kuassa Amplifikation Vermilion
This is one of the amp sims on our list that offers a free trial, however if you do want to invest in the full software it’ll only set you back $39 + VAT. This is cheaper than most other ‘premium’ amp sims, and for this price the Vermilion is well worth the investment.
The free version still offers all the same features as the paid one, and is one of the best for classic clean tones through to crunchy, overdriven tones. If you’re looking for crushing distortion then this isn’t for you, but if you’re after Fender-style clean tones (think country, blues, rock) then this is a great addition to your collection of amp sims.
Plug your guitar in and you’ll have access to three voicings as well as tremolo and reverb. You’ll also be able to customise your tones with four different microphones (both condenser and dynamic) and the ability to change their placement.
Although you won’t be getting extreme distortion tones, the added noise gate will still be useful if you’re going loud!
Download Vemilion for free (or purchase the full version) at Kuassa’s website.
14. SimulAnalog Guitar Suite
The Guitar Suite is a great piece of software if you’re looking to incorporate stompboxes as well as an amp into your guitar signal chain. Unfortunately, these plugins are quite old and will only work in 32bit Windows environments, so be prepared to bust out some bridging software if you want to use them in a modern DAW.
Some of the best stompboxes are modelled here including the
SimuAnalog Guitar Suite is available for free download at the SimulAnalog website.
15. Black Rooster Audio Cypress TT-15
The Cypress TT-15 is, as we’re told, modelled after a “very versatile, yet uniquely sounding low wattage amplifier”, and you can probably guess the amp it’s based off just by looking at it.
Another quirky addition to the list of free guitar sims, it uses six simple controls to get you on your way without having to spend ages crafting your tone.
The TT-15 gives you a great variety of tones, from sizzling distortion to crunchy overdrive, and a 2×12 cabinet emulator is also included.
Check out the sound of the Cypress TT-15 and download free of charge from the Black Rooster Audio website.
This list is quite an extensive collection of the different types of amp sims that are available to you for free. Remember that each one will offer a different selection of sounds, tones, amps, mics, cabinets and more. The great thing is you don’t have to compromise on sound just because you aren’t able to mic up your amp or cabinet.
If you’re new to guitar recording then you’ll probably find your DAW comes loaded with its own selection of native plugins which will normally include some sort of guitar amp sim (such as Amp and Cabinet in Ableton Live). Between your DAW’s native plugins and these freebies, there’s plenty available to you without breaking the bank.
Once you’ve got going then you can think about combining your guitar recordings with tried and tested production techniques to enhance your recordings. Check out our article on the Haas Effect and how it can help create more depth and colour to your guitar recordings.
Are there any we’ve missed off the list? Let us know in the comments below!