The best free plug-ins that emulate real or acoustic instruments…
UVI Workstation – Multitimbral instrument host
UVI makes some excellent sound libraries, and these are hosted inside its UVI Workstation, available as a plug-in or standalone application. The app is free and comes with a few free demo instruments, including electric piano, analogue strings, jazz drums, Spanish guitar and synth bass. It also has some built-in effects and an onboard arpeggiator and mixer.
If you choose to add paid instruments, they introduce extra features, but the demo version is unrestricted. As it can run in standalone mode it’s also good for live performance.
W: www.uvi.net – Platform: Mac, PC
Kontakt Player Free – Multitimbral VI host
Native Instruments’ Kontakt is arguably the world’s most popular software for hosting sampled virtual instruments. It also comes in a free Player version. You can also download the Kontakt Factory Selection for free. At 650MB, it’s a generous free sound set, split into five sections. Band contains 13 instruments.
World has six exotic instruments, and Synth has synthesised leads, pads, basses and drum kits. Vintage contains classic analogue synths and keyboards, while Urban Beats has five drum loop production kits.
W: www.native-instruments.com – Platform: Mac, PC
BigTick Ticky Clav – Hohner Clavinet emulator
If you’ve ever heard a funk record or some 70s disco, you’ve almost certainly heard the sound of the Hohner Clavinet. The real thing is a massive wooden beast of a keyboard, so it makes sense to recreate it in software.
Ticky Clav uses a synth engine based on a physical modeling algorithm, that reproduces the string vibration and the two pickups of the Clavinet Model C. The ‘click’ part comes from the key click that was such a big part of the sound of the original. There’s a built-in wah effect and selectable manual or auto wah.
W: http://www.bigtickaudio.com/goodies/tickyclav – Platform: Mac, PC
MDrummer Small – Sampled drum instrument
Melda makes a huge range of effect and instrument plug-ins, and even gives some of them away for free. A smaller version of the paid version, MDrummer Small still comes with 500MB of samples, multisamples and rhythms.
It’s available in all formats, and is also standalone on Windows (though not on the Mac). You get over 30 drum kits made up of more than 400 drum components, over 200 samples, 50 multisamples, 60 rhythms and more than 2,500 loops. It has a built-in sequencer for creating patterns and technology to help you humanise your beats.
A demo version of MDrummer Large is also included, so you can check out whether or not you want to upgrade to get extra features.
W: https://www.meldaproduction.com/plugins/product.php?id=MDrummer+Small – Platform: Mac, PC
Combo Model F – Virtual combo organ
Combo organs from the 60s have remained popular, finding fans more recently in guitar-based bands. Since the originals are rare, expensive and hard to maintain, software is the way forward. Combo Model F is easy on the eye and has a four-octave keyboard with a harmonic range of six polyphonic octaves. There are four footage tabs and three treble voice tabs, plus a multi tone booster and knee level control, as well as a bass voice, playable from the grey keys.
A vibrato pedal adds modulation to the signal, and there’s adjustable tuning per-note, a reverb unit, speaker cab simulation and velocity sensitivity. The whole thing works on modeling rather than sampling so it’s especially flexible.
W: http://www.martinic.com/combof – Platform: Mac, PC
AZR3 Organ – Virtual drawbar organ
The drawbar organ is a classic sound, yet real ones are insanely impractical to buy, maintain and transport. This virtual instrument gives you three different organ models and nine drawbars, which can be modified to change the tonewheels in use and the amount of the many frequencies in the signal.
As well as six waveform shapes, you get key click, percussion switches, sustain and vibrato, as well as key split mode, monophonic mode for bass sounds and scalable pitch bend.
Onboard effects include saturation, distortion and fuzz, and there’s a rotating speaker effect. The lower speaker can be switched between fixed and rotating.
W: http://www.kvraudio.com/product/azr3-by-rumpelrausch-taips – Platform: PC