Can you really get a decent sound using only free libraries? Mostly! Certain kinds of instruments, such as solo strings and vocals, are difficult to find for free at high quality, but just about everything else you can get away with!
To be clear, this page is not a collection of all the free instrument libraries EVARRr, but a collection those free resources that I think will get you the best starting sound if you are just getting into electronic music production or a hobbyist looking to find certain instruments. This does not include solutions for every instrument, just those I have found while composing for the past 5-6 years.
Alto Sax – DVS Saxophone by Dream Vortex Studio
The DVS Saxophone offers surprisingly good sound and — if cc’s and keyswitches sound scary to you — includes “Auto Express” and “Auto Vibrato” functions to control those tricky parameters. Oh! This is also very likely the sax used in Death by Glamour. Toby Fox is very tsundere about the DVS Saxophone.
DrumCircle Lite by Wavesfactory NKI
Cinematic Synthetic Drums by Impact Soundworks NKI
Arabic Drums – Arabic Kits by Findasound
Keyboards & Idiophones
Are they actually called idiophones? Yes, thingies that you play by striking so they vibrate are called idiophones, but, like, more like idiOTphones, am I right?
You’ll want a calliope in your collection because calliope is a cool word. Unfortunately as carnival instruments aren’t especially easy to come by; one of the only free ones (or even one of the only ones) is Virtual Steam Calliope Trial by Pipeloops.
I don’t know why you need a kalimba, but I won’t ask. Here, just take this… it’s Thumb Piano by Bolder Sounds NKI.
I am very fond of Music Box Free by Daniel Belik NKI, which requires you to register for free at Sampleism.com, but if you don’t want to bother with Kontakt instruments, there is also the resource-friendly rompler Orion Sound Module by SampleScience which includes an instrument called Keys – PaperMusicBox.
VL-122 by AM Music Technology should cover all your needs for jazz/funk/blues/baseball organs. It’s a neat little bit of software.
But what if you need that epic goth organ sound for your sw33t Remilia Scarlet theme remix? Look no further than The Leeds Town Hall Organ by Samplephonics NKI.
Since every bored sample-phile and their mother owns a piano of some kind, there is a wealth of free piano libraries at your disposal. Your best resource for CC-licensed and public domain free pianos is bigcat Instruments. Just remember to ascertain whether the instrument requires Creative Commons Attribution or not.
In my opinion a good basic piano to use is the public domain Iowa Piano by bigcat Instruments. Make sure the download says “Iowa Piano Take 2.zip” as the new version fixes some of the mono-sounding samples around A3.
For an emotional piano sound, try the Whisper by bigcat Instruments NKI or Air Piano by boscomac ENS. Sure you could achieve the dreamy sounds of these libraries with some simple delay and some reverb, but you and I are both lazy, right? If you’re already using Reaktor, Air Piano is worth a look, and sounds perfect for your edgelord indie game!
Guitars & Foreign People Guitars
So, slight caveat: I am bad at guitars. I don’t get them at all; they are very mysterious to me. How does the Wonderwall work? That being said I only have so many recommendations for you. Generally a much beloved source of free Kontakt guitars is Pettinhouse, so check there if you are not satisfied.
Cryptar by Atom Hub NKI is a wonderful collection of sampled, weirdified clean guitars designed for “cryptic jazz”
Junk Guitar by JunkSpider Um, I am super bummed out. This was like, an AMAZING free electric guitar with chugs, fx, mutes, sustains, brushes, the works. Junk Guitar was a Kontakt instrument in beta for a while which was free while in development and then slated to be priced at $40 (I think??). Alas, while the website remains, the download links for Junk Guitar are no more. It may return some day, but until then, fare thee well, my friend…
Thrash DI by SampleOddity NKI is a good source in the meantime for power chords.
Ethnic String Instruments
Trial Pack by Impact Soundworks NKI is a taster for some of their commercial libraries, and includes Kontakt patches for sitar, koto, bouzouki, and dombra. Though limited in range, round robins, sample quality, and articulations available, these library demos can be used without license restrictions.
(I list these all under “Ethnic String Instruments” because otherwise I’d just give you the same link four times in a row and that would be silly.)
FLukelele by PatchArena is a cute, lightweight ukulele soundfont.
My dad bought a zither once. It is the most unsalvageable, out of tune thing I have ever seen. Anyway, try the Bavarian Zither Demo by Bolder Sounds NKI.
If you are in need of a free string orchestra, download Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra by Mattias Westlund sfz as a basic foundation. Sonatina includes five string sections (the basic four plus second violin) with sustain, staccato, and pizzicato articulations, staccato and sustain trumpets/french horns/trombones, various woodwinds, orchestral percussion, a concert harp, piano, male/female/mixed choirs, xylophone and glockenspiel, timpani, some solo instruments, etc.
Upright Bass by Garritan NKI is my go-to for pizzicato acoustic bass. Garritan’s free Upright Bass soundfont is included in the Free Sounds for ARIA Engine volume one, which requires the free Plogue sforzando sfz player. For a more percussive upright bass sound you might want to try the one included in Kontakt’s Factory Selection.
Celloes? Celli? PocketBlakus Solo Cello by Blake “Blakus” Robinson NKI is pretty much the best free solo cello out there. This download includes the original release plus the Christmas spiccato update, which I am in love with. Even though I do own the commercial expansion of this instrument, Embertone Blakus Cello, I still rely on the pocketBlakus Spiccato patch for low-RAM, high energy bass lines. Like, hella.
Orchestral Strings One by Sound Magic is a popular choice for string sections if you don’t like the sound of Sonatina.
Orch Hit VSTi Free* by Softrave. It looks like the link I had previously triggers an anti-phishing alert on Chromium-based browsers. Sorry about that; I’ve had this VST for years and it hasn’t destroyed my computer, but how do you know you can trust me? I might be a supervillain.
Anyway, you’ll want the preset that starts with “27” for that meaty action/80’s dance music stab. There are some other interesting hits among the 70-odd presets included but most of them are funky chords that only suit specific genres and situations. Or perhaps I just have no imagination?
Solo Viola LITE by Northern Scoring Tools Northern Scoring Tools has seemingly vanished from the net since the conception of this list. RIP in peace. If you have a free viola library recommendation, let me know! ;(
Synth1 by Ichiro Toda is an extraordinarily popular VST and for good reason. It’s super versatile — even if you can’t figure out the controls there are so many good premade banks to download online.
Free Alpha by LinPlug is the free version of Alpha 3. Click the tab “Alpha and Soundsets” on the page to access the download. Alpha/Free Alpha is the only synth plugin I’ve found that creates kind of a morphing shimmer effect on top of the sound. Since it’s not that large of a plugin, Free Alpha may be a worthwhile addition to your arsenal.
Alchemy Player by Camel Audio is no longer freely available, a tremendous loss to f2p scrubs like you and me. Camel Audio went under at the start of 2015 and was acquired by Apple, meaning their products are now exclusives bundled with Logic Pro. Kill me.
You may be able to find a rogue Alchemy Player mirror somewhere on the net or ~ if you are extra devious ~ a cracked torrent for the full version, but I could not point you to these downloads because I am pretty dumb.
Cygnus* by Krakli
sometimes crashes in Mixcraft but is a great space synth for depressing pads. Kind of gives me a Twilight Town vibe, you dig?
I love Neochip by Espertone. (Click the bitty pink button that says ZIP to download it.) This synth by no means recreates that authentic SNES sound but has a most beautiful LFO/vibrato.
For chiptune percussion, try BiT BOX by Hello Robot. BiT BOX has a bunch of neat kits and I used it for the Dream Vs. Dream soundtrack!
Tweakbench has you covered for chiptune VSTs which use actual samples from Famicom/SNES games.
Finally, if you’re an authenticity snob looking to construct chiptune sounds out of the basic waveforms, use NES VST by Matt Montag.
T-Force Alpha Plus by Mastrcode Music and Transcender SE by Dream Vortex Studio are both excellent resources for dance synths. T-Force Alpha Plus is particularly robust and includes built-in stereo delay, gating, and side-chaining effects.
AAS Player* by Applied Acoustic Systems has a free soundbank called Swatches which demos all their other banks. A version of AAS Player with two string-based banks, Journeys and Entangled Species, is included with Mixcraft 7. These banks are based on the sounds of AAS’s flagship product Chromaphone, an “acoustic object synthesizer.” Don’t be fooled by its humble, acoustic origins, however — some of the presets in these banks are dark and outright bizarre.
Peruvian Ocarina by Precisionsound NKI
The Shakuhachi by Native Instruments NKI
Cuckoo Clay Bird by Atom Hub NKI is very much one of the cutest and yet most annoying sounds ever. Personally, I had to buy the full version.
Mixcraft Trouble Plugins
Finally, as self-appointed Queen of the Mixcraftians, I’ll leave you with my documented list of plugins that get along badly with with Mixcraft from my experience.
Can’t be used
P-Nes by JMT Musical Tools (Mixcraft 7)
The plugin crashes when trying to mixdown.
Rocket Punch by Hello Robot (Mixcraft 6)
Doesn’t render in the final mix. Drove me crazy for a while. BiT BOX works fine, however.
Spark EDM by Arturia (Mixcraft 7)
Mixcraft crashes as soon as you change the preset from the default.
TSE x50 64-bit by TSE Audio (Mixcraft 7)
Mixcraft crashes upon attempting to load the plugin. The 32-bit version works without a problem. Fixed in later builds
*Difficult to use
Cygnus by Krakli
Plugin often crashes during playback, though not guaranteed and not immediately
Dr-Fusion by ODOSynths (Mixcraft 6)
ODOSynths in general seem to slow down DAWs, though Dr-Fusion has a super high latency during playback.
FireBird by Tone2 (Mixcraft 7)
Certain presets bring up the CPU to program-destroying levels during playback, including the “Welcome” one it starts with. You can tell which ones are problematic by the magnitude of spike in CPU when you first load it up.
Orch Hit FREE by SOFTRAVE (Mixcraft 6/7)
Subsequent loads of the same project will reset Orch Hit settings to default.
Upstereo by QuikQuak (Mixcraft 6)
Plugin crashes in the same fashion as Cygnus.