We've all been there, we have the creative juices and energy to jump in the DAW and write a song, we're super excited, and then after spending hours cycling through different possible presets and VSTs, we've completely lost all motivation and have maybe 1 note to show for it. Some of us may be more highly inclined to delve deep into sound design, but if you're like me, at least 90% of the time you just want to have good sounds ready to go so you can express yourself by writing music. In this article I will dive into some of the best hassle-free virtual instruments that will let you get straight to writing music, and share my favorite ways to use each of them.
The first instrument on the list is going to be Native Instruments' Kontakt library known as Electric Sunburst. This, of course, is an electric guitar plug in. It's one of the best on the market and will only set you back around 100 bucks. The really neat thing about this is that it has hundreds of rhythms and melodies built in that you can use to get started, and sounds super realistic. If you use the patterns that come out of the box, it'll sound like a real guitar, and on top of that you can fully customize the patterns after the fact to hit the exact notes that you want.
The way that the patterns work with midi triggering is pretty unique, and I would highly recommend reading the manual before getting started on this one. It took me a good bit of practice to feel confident writing music in it, but reading the manual definitely helped understand it's complexities, and it's a pretty short manual comparative to some others I have seen, not a difficult read. You can also completely write your own melodies freely using the Melody version of the instrument, which lets you input midi notes the same way you would any other VST.
Of course, another form of customization in this instrument includes the dozens of different guitar sound presets, each of which have a somewhat deep level of customization options, but if you're just itching to go, it comes sounding great right out of the box! This is an instrument that you can hear quite frequently in my Lo-Fi music.
Next up we have the Scarbee MM-Bass, which is another Kontakt library instrument. This one is a bass guitar plug in, and if you have the Kontakt bundle, this
instrument will be included with it! If not, it's only $70 and a great addition to your collection. This bass guitar thrives in it's simplicity. It doesn't have a ton of options, and I personally haven't even dived in to tweak it's settings, it just comes sounding good and if you need a bass guitar you can throw it right in!
I will often times put an amp plug in such as Guitar Rig after it to get the tone I want out of it, and the bass doesn't quite offer the sub power I'm after so to achieve my bass sound I like to layer a sub sine wave underneath this and mix it to taste. It is a great utility instrument that gets the job done, and you can hear it in almost all of my Lo-Fi music!
Next up we have Omnisphere, a massive synth plug in with a huge myriad of presets. This one is a bit on the pricier side (close to 500 dollars) but it comes super loaded with high quality sounds. You can dive in pretty deep in sound design if you want to, so all of these sounds are extremely customizable, but I only use this plug in for it's presets typically.
The way I prefer to use this plug in is as a layer to my synth chord stacks or leads in my dance music, which I'll link to in the bottom if you want to hear. It would be hard to pick out exactly what is coming from this instrument though, as it is just one of multiple layers making up a single sound most of the time in my use of it. I like to use the categories Human Voices and Pads & Strings most of the time, although with literally over 15 THOUSAND presets, you'll always be stumbling across something new and interesting. There is a shuffle button on the bottom left of the preset browser to randomize the list, which is one way to find new inspiration!
Did I save the best for last? Well, I suppose that's up to you to decide, but Output's Arcade is undeniably the most versatile of the list, with dozens of different "lines" that all act as their own virtual instrument basically. This plug in comes at a monthly cost of 15 dollars, so while to some it may be annoying not being able to hold a perpetual license, it is extremely accessible. Plus, they are constantly adding new and interesting lines, I think they've added at least 3 since I began subscribing earlier this year, so they really do bring the value for the monthly cost.
In Arcade, each line basically has 2 types of instruments, each with dozens of customizable presets. The first type is a sampler, each preset coming preloaded with something like 15 sampled loops. In the sampler, there are also buttons to creatively chop and pitch samples on the fly, as well as a more in depth sample editor. The other instrument type is your basic MIDI triggered VST, of which there are also dozens of unique presets in each line.
This is a really fun one to play with, and you'll be finding loads of new inspiration just browsing all of the presets. When I first downloaded it, I tried to go through every preset and download all the ones I liked, and I spent 4 hours and didn't even make it through the first line, wasting probably over 10 gb of storage space. Don't be like me, just download them as you go when you find one you like! You can hear this one all over the place in my dance music and Lo-Fi music!
There are plenty of amazing virtual instruments nowadays and it can be super addicting to go find the latest and greatest! I think that it is important to remember that sometimes less is more and having your tried and true plug ins on hand and learning them inside and out is going to help far more than all the shiny new plug ins in the world. For times when you want to forego sound design and get right into the thick of it making music, these four plug ins have been my go to! Which are yours? Let us know in the comments below! As always, I encourage you to check out my music to hear for yourself how I use these plug ins, Ryahu for my dance music and philip j loaf-eye for my Lo-Fi music.
Until Next Time!