There are a wealth of free amp modeling plugins on the net. I’ve worked with nearly all of them at this point, and this review is by no means comprehensive, but here are a few of them. I’ll be posting another review that covers some of the other ones, such as Aradaz’s amps and Nick Crowe’s Wagner plugins, but for now these are the plugins in use:
Voxengo’s Boogex plugin,
BTE Audio’s Juicy77 and Tube Screamer’s Secret,
Simulanalog’s JCM900 and TubeScreamer plugins,
FrettedSynth’s VST FreeAmp 2 SE.
Anyway, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on these clips, as it’s really just an attempt to show you that you can get passably good high gain tone without spending anything if you’re pinched. The next freebie review will cover some of the very high quality plugins available, including those featured on Dimi Nalbantov’s excellent guitar instrumental albums.
I think Voxengo’s Boogex plugin is really interesting and very versatile compared to the others. The BTE Audio and Simulanalog plugins are also both good stuff, though less involved and less versatile. FreeAmp 2 SE is kind of crap. But it’s also intended to be a guitar synth more than just an amp modeler, and it has some really neat functions in that regard. This is the best I could do at getting a good high gain tone, and I spent more time on it than I’d like to admit, so if you can do better than this you’re basically a VST alchemist who can turn lead into gold.
Here’s Voxengo Boogex:
Voxengo Boogex boosted by BTE TubeScreamerSecret alternate link
And here’s the BTE Audio clip:
BTE audio Juicy77 boosted by TSS alternate link
And the SimulAnalog one:
Simulanalog JCM900 and TubeScreamer alternate link
Finally, FreeAmp 2 SE:
Freeamp 2 SE Alternate link
Voxengo’s Boogex VST is a surprisingly versatile modeler. It doesn’t always sound extremely authentic, and I don’t think its simulation of tubes, etc., is particularly advanced or anything, but it gets the job done for free. I don’t know why it is these software companies make all kinds of high-powered filters, EQs, compressors, etc. and charge the big bucks for ’em, but when they make a guitar amp simulator they just give it away. Well, more power to them! This program’s power comes from the cleverly implemented parametric EQ system with good pre-amp tone shaping options. This program also uses IRs for its cabinet simulation, which is a bit of a shortcut to at least a fairly authentic sound even with inferior modelers, which this program is not. The different IRs that come with it by default are also the source for a lot of its versatility, working in conjunction with the different parameters like “dynamics” and “phase” in the amp section to quite easily change the whole sonic flavor. I boosted it with BTE Audio’s Tube Screamer’s Secret for this clip because I was going for the boosted high gain sound. I think it turned out pretty well!
I think that both the BTE and Simulanalog plugins have a lot to like about them. Juicy77 can be pretty boomy, but it has a really good fundamental tone, and responds very well to different input. I like its multiple cab sims and two-channel architecture; you can get a wide range of sounds from the plugin. BTE’s TSS is a really nice tube screamer pedal, maybe even better than the Simulanalog one! It has a very responsive, dynamic, realistic tone, and the clipping ramps up very authentically when you rotate the gain knob. I wonder if BTE is planning to release a fully-featured modeler in the future? This is a heck of a start, and free at that.
Simulanalog’s JCM900 is a really good sounding JCM900 with one built-in cab sim, and like the original it goes from crunchy to crunchier. I’ve long used their DS-1, SD-1, and TubeScreamer pedals with other VSTs for the specific tones they offer. They are especially handy in ReValver MkIII, which has an excellent TubeScreamer but doesn’t have a DS-1 or SD-1 equivalent. Since it allows you to host external VSTs, I’ll load up the DS-1 or SD-1 in front of the amp sim to get a killer tone. Very cool stuff.
FreeAmp 2 SE kind of sounds like garbage in my opinion, but it’s free! It is much easier to get a bad tone than a good tone from that program, and nothing in it works like a real amp does. Its synth side is much more interesting, but that’s not what this clip is about. I’m actually pretty proud of the tone I’m getting, because even though it sounds kind of awful, it’s “usable” in the broadest sense of the term, and I have never had a usable sound from this program before. Don’t download this unless you’re interested in a pretty neat guitar synth. To be fair, the maker has recently released Free Amp 3, which I haven’t checked out – it’s entirely possible that it is better in every way! I’ll have to look into it.