Best Free Virtual Instruments for 2023
Are you just learning to write music and looking for free resources? A professional composer tired of exchanging currency for goods? Then you need this list of the world’s latest and greatest free instruments.
Over the past few months, I’ve managed to put together the world’s best list of online free virtual instruments. This is not a compilation of every free virtual instrument in existence, but a ･ﾟ♬:✧ curated ﾟ✧♪♩･:ﾟ list, which means my hard drive has eaten hundreds, if not thousands of gigabytes’ worth of free pianos, guitars, and more. If a freeware developer even thinks about generating a list of leads for their software newsletter, my name and token spam-collection email are already on it.
As a result, this list is designed for fancy, fancy people. Make sure to fance your pants before reading it.
Free virtual instrument series
View the main page or learn more about 📕 plug-in formats. licenses and download requirements.
- 🎹 Pianos, organs, & keyboards
- 🎤 Solo vocals, choirs
- 🎻 Orchestral strings
- 🎸 Guitars, harps, lutes, & zithers
- 🎷 Woodwinds & free reeds
- 🎺 Brass & horns
- 🔔 Idiophones
- 🥁 Drums, percussion
- Synths & drum machines – Coming soon! (❛◡˂̵ ̑̑✧)
- DAWs, samplers, & FX – Coming soon! (❛◡˂̵ ̑̑✧)
Choose your favorite category above or keep reading below the cut for additional notes and resources. ヽ(╹ᗜ╹✿)
Free DTM resources
Besides this fabulous list, there are many more places to watch for free instruments. Each one here has a stopwatch (⏱) rating for what I call “freebie volatility,” or how likely the freebie is to be yanked off the internet, either to never be seen again or to be reintroduced as a commercial offering.
Visit the Graveyard to mourn free instruments I either couldn’t get to or had to remove from the list.
- 0 stopwatches
- Free stuff is likely to last indefinitely.
- 1 stopwatch (⏱)
- Free stuff is not likely to rotate or get deleted any time soon, but it’s still possible.
- 2 stopwatches (⏱⏱)
- Free stuff is at risk of being wordlessly removed within a few years.
- 3 stopwatches (⏱⏱⏱)
- Free stuff may be part of explicitly time-limited giveaways and gone very soon.
- Bedroom Producers Blog ⏱⏱⏱ is a great news source for free instrument and VST giveaways. If a sample instrument developer has a press release, they send it to Tomislav. Subscribe to the newsletter or RSS feed to keep tabs on limited-time promotional giveaways, usually for effects plug-ins that usually cost money.
- Loot Audio ⏱⏱ (formerly KontaktHub/Sampleism) lets you claim instruments, sample packs, and more on their list of freebies if you sign up for a free account. The list rotates every so often. It does not seem to have a “remember me” cookie so maybe log in and download stuff all in one go.
- KLANG ⏱⏱ is Cinematique Instruments’ series of monthly experimental freebies for Kontakt and Ableton. These sometimes get reabsorbed into the (admittedly very affordable) commercial catalog. As of the time of writing (June 2021), some of the ones previously available for both formats on the freebies page, like Stack of Wood, can still be downloaded if you’re clever with the web inspector, but I won’t tell you how to do that since they’re supposed to cost money now. 🤭
- KVR Developer Challenge is an annual contest for indie plug-in developers hosted by the world’s premier audio plug-in database site. Each year’s contest offers a crop of new and interesting free plug-ins to download.
- Pianobook ⏱ is a collection of user-contributed sample instruments, including many home pianos (of course), designed pads, and attic finds. Most of the instruments are for Kontakt, but you can filter search results by format, as there are many with SFZ or Decent Sampler versions as well. Stay up to date with new releases on the “Lastest” page or via the instrument RSS feed (oops, currently broken).
- Plugins4Free (formerly VST4Free) hosts dozens of free standalone VST plug-ins (i.e. not Kontakt instruments) and is a good place to find older solo indie dev stuff as well as bigcat’s VSTs.
- ProducerFeed ⏱⏱⏱ (formerly FLStudioMusic) is another blog that also focuses on presets, FL Studio projects, and MIDI files.
- VI-Control’s freebies thread ⏱⏱ is the donation bin for any free instrument finds or offerings from VI-Control members.
Free utilities for downloading & converting samples
- foobar2000 is a great open-source audio player that makes editing metadata and converting between formats a snap (using the free encoder pack). Now you too can finally stop asking people on Freesound to upload everything as an MP3! Seriously!
- Fxtractor is a tool to convert vstpreset files to the older FXP or FXB formats.
- Polyphone Soundfont Editor can be used to create SF2, SF3, and SFZ instruments using .wav files.
- ReFill Packer is a free utility for all Reason owners that lets you pack files to RFL format.
- SFZConverter can be used to convert folders of files to SFZ.
- sfArk 2 unpacks ye olde compressed SoundFonts.
- Universal Bypass is a browser extension that lets you skip over AdFly and other paid URL shortener links. I’m using it in Firefox. None of the list entries should have this problem, but in my case, it has proven helpful when braving the waters of untested free virtual instruments from dubious sources. (Also AdFly sucks in general.)
- vscode-sfz is a syntax theme for SFZ markup in Visual Studio Code.
- The Wayback Machine browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, or Safari can be used to sometimes salvage download links that have been taken off the web.
I’m not on a Unix system, but you guys are probably fine.
- Bulk Rename Utility is portable software (plus a command-line tool) that lets you rename files en masse using simple find-and-replace rules or regex patterns. It’s good for organizing your samples, sound effects, and especially synth presets using a consistent naming format.
- Everything is your friend when you need to uninstall certain plug-ins — sometimes those VSTs with their own installers leave some litter, like Start menu shortcuts. It’s also good for quickly locating app data folders, e.g. if you need to mess with VST 3 plug-ins, license files, or presets. (Thx Nekkowe for the recommendation.)
- Locale Emulator, coupled with 32-bit 7zip, can help you extract non-Latin character plug-in archives without encoding errors. Using this method will preserve the file names and content of any readme files or plaintext documentation. With the fully preserved readme in hand and a mere six months of studying Japanese, you’ll be able to unlock the secrets of that freeware SoundFont clarinet sitting in your collection (Power Move — not recommended for amateurs).
- Open Orchestra Project is a Python library to download and create SFZ and GIG instruments from the free samples offered by Philharmonia and the University of Iowa. Philharmonia’s samples are royalty-free, but their license prevents redistribution as part of a virtual instrument, meaning you have to use a method like this to make your own. (If you don’t want to run the script, there’s a link to some generated instruments in the repository description! I haven’t included it in the list proper because it’s 500 MB compressed and technically not allowed, but you should check it out if you need SFZ/GIG mappings for Philharmonia samples!)
- NI Uninstall RegTool is a utility to delete registry entries of Native Instrument libraries so they stop showing up with the “repair” icon in Native Access after you uninstall them.
- SFPack… because sometimes you find an inexplicably compressed SoundFont.
Free instrument FAQ
Q. Why is <insert free instrument here> not on your list?
A. Various reasons:
- This is a list for virtual instruments that correspond to a physical instrument of some kind. It purposefully does not include “creatively” sampled or processed instruments (e.g. a violin recorded through an amp or stretched beyond recognition into a generic pad), cinematic construction kits, or sound effect/loop romplers. They’re too numerous and subjective to evaluate on a “best of” list.
- The list is mostly atomic, meaning I opted for individual instruments (and sometimes articulations) over massive free orchestras or “General MIDI” sets so you can mix and match the best sounds.
- The instrument uses samples with unsuitable, conflicting, or ambiguous licenses.
- The download requirements are too tedious, the file size is too large, or the proprietary player is too buggy or difficult to use. (This is why you won’t see many HALion libraries, huge popular freeware pianos, or SINEplayer instruments, respectively.)
- The instrument was released or made available in the time since my last update…
It’s also possible I just haven’t heard of it yet. I’ve done my best to search far and wide and across various languages, but it’s the internet, so who knows! I also may have missed or overlooked it if it’s in an obscure or specific proprietary format I don’t have the tools to use (e.g. ReFills, Ableton Live Packs). If you have something in mind that matches this description or think I overlooked something that deserves a second chance, .
Q. What do the little colored tags stand for? Why do some entries have something like “(Woocommerce)” after them?
A. The colored tags are the formats the library is available in. The most common ones are NKI (Kontakt), SFZ (Sforzando), and VST/AU.
The parentheticals generally denote shopping cart (read: checkout, newsletter sign-up, account creation) and download requirements. If an entry has both, it will be written as “(<shopping> + <download>).” If an entry has two download link options, the shopping cart requirement will be listed as “(<link 1 requirement> or <link 2 requirement>).”
If the words in parentheses say “Attribution @…” it means the instrument is CC BY-licensed (or similar) and requires attribution for use. “Optional attribution” means credit is encouraged but not necessary. Remember that these comments reflect licensing terms for regular instrument use (i.e. using it in a song or media project). Terms are generally more restrictive when it comes to redistributing the library or using it to create your own plug-in.
You can look up what the tags and download keywords stand for in the plug-in download glossary, which also has more specific notes on license attribution.
Q. There is a mistake in your list!!!! You must die now.