I don’t go crate digging for free instruments quite as often as I used to, but I still use them from time to time. Some of these are Kontakt instruments, some are VSTs, and some are soundfonts.
If you find a free instrument you like, don’t wait to download it. If you eventually find a replacement for that instrument but still like the free version, don’t delete it. These instruments have a tendency to disappear overnight.
Make sure when you’re downloading a free instrument based on internet samples that the instrument is public domain and not CC BY-SA. Having one instrument in your collection which randomly requires attribution is a headache waiting to happen, and while nobody’s going to come after you if you forget to credit the original sample author, so long as you’ve already chosen to go the freeware route rather than pirate better libraries, you are going to be 100% legal and wholesome, goddammit.
- City Piano
- City Piano is a great bread-and-butter piano based on public domain samples.
- Pop Piano Free
- I own several commercial piano libraries, but still frequently come back to Sonic Cat’s Pop Piano when I need keys for bright, upbeat tunes.
- pocketBlakus Cello
- After creating pocketBlakus, Blake Robinson eventually collaborated with Embertone on a more robust commercial cello library, the Blakus Cello. However, even for owners of the full version, the original free instrument is well worth downloading for its Swiss army knife spiccato patch.
- The erhu is a lovely instrument. You owe it to yourself to have one.
- Shreddage 3 Stratus FREE
- The nice thing about Shreddage 3 over its predecessor is that the guitars come with an effects rack built-in and a lot of presets that make it easy to get up and running with a virtual guitar setup without the need to use your own plugin signal chain. The free version of Shreddage 3 Stratus only includes a few articulations, but is otherwise fully functional.
- Spicy Guitar
- This is actually a physically modeled guitar synth. It’s lightweight and suitable for understated guitar chords.
- Cryptar is an awesome eclectic guitar library. While it’s not suitable for generic guitar usage, it has a very lovely sound that will fit well into certain genres and styles.
- I understand the Valiha is not a guitar in the traditional sense, but I’m white and don’t know any better.
- ChineeGuZheng Classic
- Okay, admittedly also not a guitar. I just wanted to avoid making a subheading just called “ethnic instruments,” yknow?
- Ivory Wind
- Unfortunately, recorder and kazoo libraries take themselves more seriously than people of our generation would like, so you’re out of luck if you’re looking for a shittyflute. Still, when used properly, the recorder is not actually a terrible instrument! Download this now, because I’m one of the suckers who paid $10 to subsidize it :T
- Peruvian Ocarina
- What it says on the tin.
- This is a bamboo flute with legato and staccato notes, as well as flutter tongue and accented notes, which you don’t often see in free instruments.
- Along with Synth1, P8 is a popular choice for freeware composers looking for a supersaw sound.
- Available as a Reaktor ensemble (Phutura 2) or a VST plugin, Phutura is an Alpha Juno emulation with the best free hoover sound on the market.
- Rave Generator 2
- Rave Generator has all the 90s stabs you didn’t even know you needed.
- Grooove BPB
- This feature-limited version of the drum player by brunsandspork is perfect for creating simple drum kits. The BPB edition also comes with five bread and butter kits to start.
- Cinematic Synthetic Drums
- Impact Soundworks offers this collection of epic electronic drums for free.
Just for fun
- Orch Hit VSTi Demo Version
- There are a lot of good sounds in here, but number 27 will be your staple for adding that extra punch to your tracks.
- Super Spook Keys
- Add some sci-fi spookiness to your tracks with this virtual theremin.
- What, you don’t know what a stylophone is? Neither does spellcheck apparently. It kind of sounds like an Otamatone.
- Haunted Music Box
- It’s a music box with some reverse patches and other spookery.
- Death Piano LE
- Same as the above, only it’s a piano.
- Versilian Studio Chamber Orchestra Community Edition
- VSCO has apparently devoured Sonatina and other alternative libraries to create the ultimate Frankenstein library made purely of public domain orchestral samples.
- Versilian Community Sample Library
- Available as .sfz or as Kontakt instruments from bigcat, the VCSL aims to expand on the collection of samples and instruments already offered by VSCO CE.
- Reverberate LE
- If you’re not willing to hemorrhage money, LiquidSonics’ free version of Reverberate should be right up your alley.
Just for fun
- Censor your inappropriate rap songs!
- Radio FX
- Add up to 8 wav files and tune between them using the big knob.
- Mutant v3 (Windows)
- A Japanese freeware utility by Crypton Future Media to organize your sound effects, loops, and samples in a local database. Add folders, then play and tag your files right from the browser. The program shows waveforms and meta fields like key, BPM, filetype, genre, instrument, etc.
- Bedroom Producers Blog
- BPB, and similarly Rekkerd.org, are great resources for staying on top of soundware giveaways, freebies, and sales.
- VST 4 FREE
- This site is home to the old, the abandoned, and the super obscure among VSTs.
- Spitfire LABS
- Spitfire releases free experimental instruments every month. Personally, I wasn’t able to get the LABS plugin to work the first time I tried (probably Mixcraft’s fault ahem), but I own a lot of the donationware LABS Kontakt instruments before they made the switch to the new format, and they’re totally awesome.