Need Advice on Electric Guitar VST Files

I am using Cantabile as a player for guitar VST files. Cantabile itself is working fine. The problem I’m having is finding VST files that deliver sounds like I’m used to hearing in commercial songs. So far I am only using freely-available VST files. Fiddling with all the settings within each VST file does not seem to bring out the ‘real’ sound I am looking for. Acoustic guitars come out fine. However ‘electric’ and ‘bass’ guitars make sounds but they just don’t sound like what’s on the CD or radio.

As examples, look at the intros to Rolling Stones songs such as Honky Tonk Women, Gimme Shelter, and Start Me Up; I’d like to create something like those, but I can’t come up with anything that sounds like any of them.

I’m a newbie at this so any advice is greatly appreciated.

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Have you played around with any of the various cabinet and amplifier emulators yet? Those account for 60% or more of the “sound”, when speaking of electric basses and guitars.


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No, I’ve just been using the VST files & Cantabile. I suspected something else was needed, but not sure what to look for.


Programming anything close to a believable guitar part takes some rather sophisticated (and generally, expensive) software, lots and lots of time being super picky with a mouse, and a very good understanding of the sound you’re trying to achieve. Hate to be a downer but that’s just the case- it’s one of the hardest things to replicate via keyboards and programming.
Just take Honky Tonk Woman as a perfect example: In that intro you have to bend one string while not bending another in a double stop, going from a 4th to a 3rd and back. That’s damn near impossible to do in real time on any keyboard without some deep programming. A guitar vibrato is not a sine-wave vibrato like a synth. It starts from the root not and goes up only- a guitar string can not go lower than its fretted pitch unless you start in a bend and go down. But after the bend then the vibrato is different. It might go around the pitch, or up only, or down only. The nuances that make a guitar sound like a guitar are insane and that’s before the infinite sound possibilities of the body, pick-ups, your picking style, effects pedals, amps…
Nine times out of ten you’re better off calling a guitar player and just recording him :wink:

When you say VST files- what exactly are you referring to??

Hey Bob,

I believe you mean MIDI files, not VST files - correct?

In this case, I’ll have to echo @FredProgGH’s comments: it’s near impossible to get good rock guitar sound from a MIDI file.

  • The electric guitar sounds in most General Midi soundsets are mediocre at best, to begin with. What sound set are you using to play these MIDI files? You can get some mileage from better GM soundsets, but that only gets you a bit better - definitely not to radio play level
  • the guitar programming in a lot of free MIDI files you find on the web is p***-poor - aside from the fact that it is horribly difficult to program good guitar performances in MIDI; some aspects are just impossible to realize (different bendings, vibrato, fretboard positions, …). There are some dedicated MIDI guitar VST instruments that try to address these issues, but programming them also becomes a science…

Regarding the raw sound, especially for distorted guitars, sometimes you’re better off using a clean guitar sound and putting it through an amp simulator like S-Gear (commercial) or Voxengo Boogex (free) - at least then you’ve got a decent-sounding guitar amp effect.

But overall, if you want to achieve commercial-production quality on guitar sounds, you’ll need someone who can play a guitar at a decent level of proficiency.

The alternative to using MIDI tracks would be to use audio backing tracks (MP3) - most of these usually do have decent recorded guitars.

It all depends on what you are trying to achieve with these MIDI files - can you elaborate?



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‘MIDI’ probably is the correct name (Cantabile uses it to generates sounds based on input MIDI signals ) although the sites I download the files from call them ‘VST’. For that matter most of the files have ‘dll’ extensions.

What I am doing is building what is ‘kinda sorta’ a midi-guitar; it inputs MIDI signals to Cantabile and (hopefully) I will get decent guitar sounds out, all on my PC.

I will try Voxengo Boogex - thanks for the referral!

Ah, intriguing! So you are using some form of a VST sound generator, but with a guitar (or guitar-like thing) as a MIDI input device? That actually has the most potential to sound realistic. There’s still a lot of variables to get to where you’re going though. It still sort of begs the question- why not just pay guitar :wink:

Seriously, if you don’t mind doing it a complete list of the stuff you’re using will help us formulate some ideas. We’re taking shots in the dark otherwise.

OK, then what you mean are VST instruments - so you’re not trying to play MIDI files (which are essentially recordings of key-press and controller data) but rather play a virtual instrument via some kind of MIDI input.

In this case, you’ll need a decent guitar virtual instrument, that can also be played interactively, not just programmed. MusicLab and AmpleSound have some nice plugins - unfortunately not free. If you then feed these into a decend amp plugin like S-Gear, Amplitube, or GuitarRig, you can get a pretty decent sound.

But if you are using a guitar-like input controller, I’d echo @FredProgGH’s question: why not play a real guitar through a VST amp? Any simulated chain through a MIDI controller and a guitar plugin will never fully sound like the real thing - usually MIDI guitars are used by guitarists to play synth sounds, not guitar sounds… And the MusicLab or AmpleSound stuff is essentially for those poor keyboard guys who can’t play a real axe :guitar:.




I greatly appreciate all thee informative and prompt comments. Heading out to Thanksgiving dinner right now and will be back with more info later.



RE: " why not play a real guitar through a VST amp? Any simulated chain through a MIDI controller and a guitar plugin will never fully sound like the real thing - usually MIDI guitars are used by guitarists to play synth sounds, not guitar sounds… And the MusicLab or AmpleSound stuff is essentially for those poor keyboard guys who can’t play a real axe :guitar:."

I don’t have an electric guitar nor was I at all proficient (way) back when I had an acoustic guitar. I’m kind of in the same boat as the keyboard guys.

The ‘guitar-like’ device I am building (this is a hobby project) will hopefully allow me to more easily make (real-time, not programmed/recorded) guitar-like music.

Regarding my setup; I have my device which when activated inputs a short digital stream into my PC via USB. Two software tools I have on the PC create a virtual MIDI input (MIDI1) on the PC. In Cantabile I can load a VST file “DVS Guitar” as an Output Port and I can select MIDI1 as the input to it. When I press a button on my guitar-like device I get a single guitar note out of my sound system.

I am not sure how to connect an amp or Voxengo or any other audio processing into this ‘stream’ - if that’s what would make it sound better.



And, let me apologize for any inaccurate or misleading descriptions I might post - I’m just learning the lingo - this is a whole new field for me.

Blasphemy!!.. Sorcerer!

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… yeah well we got more strings than you!

Ah, DVS Guitar. It’s… how should I put this… when it comes to this kind of thing you get what you pay for… You’d almost get a better guitar sound running a clavinet through a guitar amp. Really, when you try to play guitar via keyboards or MIDI that’s about what you’re doing. I’ll try and post something actually helpful (and not just negativity!) tomorrow but right now it’s 3:30 AM here and I need sleep… :stuck_out_tongue: :smiley:

Nope - I play both :sunglasses:

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OK, I’ve had a look at this DVS Guitar - shudder… It’s essentially a sampled distorted guitar sound with no dynamics whatsoever and always the same attack phase. Since the distortion is already built in, there is no point in putting this through a software amp like Boogex; this will not help. Overall, DVS Guitar is a nice toy, but nothing to get close to a serious guitar sound

Speaking openly: if you expect a “CD quality” guitar sound from the setup you describe, then you will have to tune your expectations down - a lot! The sounds you hear on CDs are the product of people who have been training for years to be proficient in their craft, and the equipment they use is worth thousands of dollars, Euros or whatever your favorite coin may be. Imitating this with a tool chain that is super-limited (just pressing a “button” is not the most expressive input shaping; MIDI is not the most expressive way to control guitar sounds, free guitar VST instruments are mostly inacceptable in their tone-shaping capabilities) will not even get you in the ballpark.

If you REALLY want to stick with this button-to-midi-to-vst-instrument toolchain, then I’ve given you links to some serious VST instruments that will get you a bit closer to a real-sounding guitar imitation (MusicLab and AmpleSound), but unfortunately, anything that gets you to a somewhat acceptable level will not be free.



Essentially, given the songs you mention in the beginning, my recommendation would be:

  • get a cheap telecaster (clone)
  • tune it to Open G / Blues G (Keith Richards tuning)
  • plug it into your audio interface and connect any decent VST amp plugin with a “breaking-up” amp sound
  • watch three Youtube videos to learn those riffs

This is really easy in Blues G - I could teach you “Start Me Up” in about 5 minutes…



Can you teach it to me in 3 minutes? I am kinda in a hurry.:rofl:


Nah man - you don’ need no teachin’ :laughing:

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I’m going to throw my 2 cents in here…
As a guitarist, I know all too well over the years how VST guitar and bass “emulators” sound and try to be like the real thing. I haven’t been impressed at all… until now. Take a look at Heavier7Strings -
I bought this a couple of weeks ago because I was so impressed! I have 8Dio, Shreddage 1 and 2, and a host of others… Heavier7Strings is awesome IMHO.
For the first time in years I actually enjoy working with a guitar VST and haven’t been tempted to pick up my axe in disappointment. At first glance it appears to be geared to “Metal” guitarists, but dig into it and you’ll find it’s useful for any genre and does a fairly proper job at bass guitar too.