Free VST Plug-ins

This article features a couple of my favourite free VST plug-ins and where to download them. 

Installation

Some of the effects come with their own installation program so make sure  you install them to the  folder where you keep all your VSTs. Other effects will just be contained within a zip or compressed folder where you can extract them to your VST folder.  The effects themselves are just .dll files eg. univibe.dll. If you haven’t already read it, click this link to read my beginner’s guide to recording guitar on PC for a brief introduction to using VST plug-ins in Reaper.

SimulAnalog Guitar suite

This comes with 7 effects and is a great place to start. In the pack you get 3 classic distortion pedals (Boss DS1, Boss SD1 and Tube Screamer), 2 vintage amplifiers (Fender Twin and Marshall JCM9000), a Univibe and phaser.

Website: http://www.simulanalog.org/guitarsuite.htm

Shred 1 Suite

This is seriously generous of the developers to give away for free! You get 6 fully customisable amplifiers based on classic head units plus the Frankenamp that allows you to mix and match different parts of the 6 heads to create your own amp. It also comes with loads of presets so if it all looks a bit daunting you can flick through them instead. You can vary every part of the sound including simulating room size and changing the speaker sizes!

Website: http://www.acmebargig.com/shred/

That’s it for now but I’ll be back with more musical based ramblings soon!

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Recording guitar on your PC

I’ve written a beginners guide that explains how to record your electric guitar using a laptop or PC. This guide assumes you have:

  • A guitar with a jack output (microphone recording isn’t in the scope of this guide)
  • A Windows based PC or laptop with 2GB RAM and a dual core processor
  • A USB guitar interface
  • Decent headphones

USB Interface

Although you could plug your guitar directly into your PC I wouldn’t advise it. The results you get with a dedicated guitar interface are much better and they aren’t too expensive. I use one of these USB interfaces and the current price of £26 is very reasonable. Before installing the device, download the latest drives from the manufacturers website and use those instead of the CD as they may be out of date. Once whatever device you have is installed it’s now time to think about what audio software you will use.

Audio software

I would recommend the excellent Reaper. It’s free to try for as long as you want and is both easy to use and very feature packed. This guide will only cover Reaper but the process is similar for most DAW (digital audio workstation) software such as Sonar and Cubase.

Download Reaperchoice of 32-bit and 64-bit versions

Reaper user guidefantastic guide that is thoroughly recommended

I’d also recommend a dedicated audio editing application for fine tuning any recordings or converting the file to a different format. Again, you don’t need to spend any money as Audacity is available for free. You will also need the free MP3 encoder codec… for now just download it and unzip the file lame_eng.dll to a folder on your PC.

Download Audacityget the 1.3.12 beta version

Download MP3 encoder – click the Zip file link

Connect your guitar and headphones to the USB interface.

Setting up Reaper

Once installed, run reaper and choose Options > Preferences from the main menu. Under the Audio section choose Device. Make sure that the Audio System at the top is set to ASIO and everything else is as in the screenshot (with your USB interface replacing my one as necessary).

ASIO Setup

Click on ASIO Configuration button to open the ASIO driver. Depending on your device this screen will be different but the important thing is to remember how to get to this screen as you may need to change the ASIO performance if you run into problems. If you have at least 2GB RAM and a dual core processor try setting System/ASIO Performance to Fast.

Plug-ins Setup

Back in the Preferences window click on VST under Plug-ins. Reaper comes with loads of effects and your USB interface may have come with some too. There are several quality plug-ins available on the Internet for free and I’ll be coming back to these in a future blog post. For now, let’s just stick with the default Reaper effects but be aware that any plug-ins you download on your PC should be placed in the folder(s) you have selected at the top of the window.

Recording your first track in Reaper

Close the Preferences window and you should be looking at a blank project. On the main menu choose Track > Insert virtual instrument on new track and the Plug-ins window appears. In the VST section choose VST: ReaVerbate (Cockos) and click OK. A new track will be added and the plug-ins’ config screen will open.

Move this window to the side a bit so you can see the new track you have just added behind it. Click on the input drop down menu that’s just below the volume slider and select Mono Input > In 1, as in the screenshot. You should now be able to hear your guitar! On the ReaVerbate VST window have a play around with the parameters to get a nice reverb sound. Alternatively choose one of the presets from the Presets menu. When you’re happy with the sound close the VST window.

Recording the track

On the track make sure that it is armed for recording and monitoring is on as in the screenshot. On the Transport bar click on the record button and start playing. Click to OpenWhen you’ve finished press the record button again (or the space bar). The Transport bar runs horizontally across the screen, below the individual tracks. The recording will then appear in the main window. You can listen back to what you have recorded by using the controls in the Transport bar.

Not happy with the recording? Just click on it and press the delete key then record it again. If you wish to change the plug-in settings just click on the FX button on the track. The little circle next to it is used to turn all the effects for that track on/off with one click.

One thing to pay particular attention to is to make sure the sounds isn’t clipping.  Use the volume slider on the track to get the maximum sound somewhere around the -6DB level. If the sound is clipping you’ll see a warning on the master volume window.

A common issue is hearing popping or hissing when you are playing. Make sure the volume isn’t clipping then close all other running programs apart from Reaper. If it’s still happening then lower the ASIO performace- this will increase latency (delay between what you play and what you hear). If the volume isn’t clipping then the issue is almost certainly your PC not being able to keep up. You could also try unplugging the USB interface and then re-connecting it.

Exporting the recording

You will need to export the recording if you want to share it with other people or transfer it to an MP3 player. In Reaper this is called rendering. From the main menu choose File > Render to view the Render to File window. Click to Open Use the Output file box to specify a file name and place to save the file in. You can use the Output format box to choose a particular file format but we will be using the default WAV format as I want to show you how to edit using Audacity. Once your happy with the settings click on Render.

Editing and converting the recording in Audacity

Open Audacity and choose Edit > Preferences and choose Libraries. Next to MP3 Library click Locate and then browse. Click to OpenRemember earlier when you extracted the file lame_enc.dll ? In the browse window you need to find that file and then click open. Close the Preferences window.

Click File > Open and find the recording you exported (rendered) from Reaper. There are several inbuilt effects that can be accessed via the effect menu. Some highlights include the Compressor, Equalization (EQ) and Amplifier.

To turn your recording into an MP33 file go to File > Export and specify a filename and location to save the file. Use the ‘Save as Type’ box to choose a file format but for now just select MP3 and that’s it!

In the next part I’ll be discussing some of the best free VST effect plug-ins available from the Internet. Until then get stuck into Reaper and feel free to contact me if you need any help.