You do not need the most expensive most sought-after, most cutting-edge, Avant-guard plug-ins to make good music. Sometimes less is more, and this goes for the price you pay for your plug-ins.
In this article, I will show you the 15 best free Ableton Plug-ins on the market. I will categorise these plug-ins by their utility. For example VST instruments such as guitars, pianos, drums etc, VST effects for audio and MIDI, and sample editors.
Since this is an Ableton tutorial, you will expect these plug-ins to come in the VST 2.0 and 3.0 for both Windows and MacBook, and Audio Units (AU) exclusively for Mac. For details on the installation process, you can check out this tutorial.
MODO DRUM CS 1.5 by IK Muntimedia
This plug-in is going to be your entry-level, acoustic studio drummer. MODO Drum CS 1.5 is in contention to be the best free acoustic studio drummer plug-in. the full version comes with different types of kits and kit customization for you to pick from but CS 1.5 remains fully capable. You have several MIDI presets that will help you get started. Each is customizable by playstyle, and mix and match the MIDI presets by dragging and dropping them into Ableton’s different views for further arrangements and MIDI editing
Editing it where MODO Drum shines. All the drum elements are mapped onto your MIDI controller and each element in this drum kit can be edited. Simply highlight the element and select edit element. You can then edit the skins of the drum, diameter, tuning, room and overhead microphone pick up and much more. You can also select the stick type played by both hands, and also the kick’s beater type and play style. You can choose which room you want to emulate, from the booth to a large venue. This plug-in also comes with a mixer to control gain, equalize, gate, distort, compress, reverb etc. you have a selection of sends and buses for further mixing and effects outside the plug-in
You can get this plug-in for free here.
Ample Guitar M Lite II by Ample Sound
The M guitar is emulated by the Martin D-41 Acoustic Guitar. It is tough to find guitar plug-ins that sound natural when played back in MIDI. They all either sound artificial or have no nuances, Ample Sound’s guitar emulations bring a live guitarist into your productions with incredible sound quality and performance variations and with the M II Lite, you get this for free.
Lo-Fi Piano by Steinberg
This plug-in designed by Steinberg will meet all your Lo-Fi music needs for a moody and distorted feel to your productions. Lo-Fi Hip-Hop has been a dark horse in the music industry in the past couple of years. It essentially repackages the dark tones of the early 1990s Hip-Hop scene into the modern context. This plug-in comes with a handful of presets based on an upright piano recorded by selected vintage microphones to create a cosy vintage ambience for your productions.
For this plug-in, you need to create an account with Steinberg and download the Steinberg Download Assistant to access it. Otherwise, it is completely free here.
Guitar Harmonics Essential by Cinematique Instruments
Guitar Harmonics Essential is the smaller version of Guitar Harmonics but is very capable to any producer looking for that cinematic ambient-sounding guitar plug-in. it is created by sampling the harmonic notes of a nylon guitar and affected with loads of reverb and delay controls.
It comes with 5 main parameter controls. Attack to adjust how soft or hard the notes a played, decay to affect release time, delay, and a reversed reverb, and 2 main amplifier types. Rotary to add a vintage dark vibrato effect and cabinet for a modern bright sound depending on what you like. The tone now effectively affects how much signal you drive out of the plug-in. For a dull or bright sound, this can be changed here.
Get this plug-in for free here.
Gorilla Bass by Sample Science
This is a sample-based plug-in as the name of the manufacturer suggests. This is going to be the most aggressive and grungy bass plug-in in your library. This plug-in is perfect for Drum & Bass, Garage and Dubstep! EDM producers here is your free bass plug-in. the samples are created from scratch, mixed and processed to give you these massive basses.
The plug-in is very easy to use with simple LFO controls, reverb, gain, cut-off, pan, and an even simpler high-low controlled equalizer!
Beatzille by U-HE
This is the smaller brother to the Bazille modular synthesiser. A modular synthesizer is an assemble of different audio components such as a signal generator, VCO controls, LFO control, effects etc. even being the more compact of the larger Bazille, it is still very capable as it comes with well-designed Digital oscillators, analogue-style filter and flexible patching, a sequencer and an effects delay. As monstrous as it appears, it comes with presets to help you get started.
Beatzille is available for free here.
Vital by Vital Audio
Vital is a wavetable synthesizer. Since it was announced a few years ago, it quickly became one of the most highly anticipated wavetable synthesizer plug-ins released in 2021. It comes in 4 different variations which have their features, the free version being Basin, coming with 25 presets and 25 wavetables.
You can warp audio samples in the engaging spectral oscillator warping that affects a waveform’s harmonics and can create drastically different shapes, voicings and timbres, create wavetables from the built-in wavetable editor and the coolest part, are you can create wavetables from the text acting like a voice to text vocoder. Vital also gives you a visual preview of your modulation allowing you to quickly experiment. Your modulators allow you to use stereo modulation which enables, you to split the left/right channels for a wide stereo effect.
Get Vital here.
Audio Effects Plug-ins
Deelay by Sixth Sample
Deelay is a sound design tool, but it’s a delay effect plug-in with reverb presets. The presets developed by Sixth Sense are so creative that it turns this delay plug-in into a sound design tool. You will get loads of creative parameter control knobs to customize your delay length, size, saturation, modulation, and delay length control by milliseconds or time signature. The plug-ins are named faithfully to the vibe and mood so you can have an idea of what the plug-in will do to your sound. The presets can also be tweaked and saved to create your custom preset collection.
Did I mention it’s free here?
Ignite Emissary Bundle by STL Tones
Emissary is the angriest amplifier in the market. It works best when you load it as an effect on a bass or electric guitar track but in the hands of an even angrier producer, why not load it onto your 808s? or crazier yet, your vocals for that grungy aggressive sound? Emissary comes with 2 types: the clean and tame Clean modes and the bone-breakingly aggressive Lead presets controlled by knob and filter parameters.
Emissary also comes with Nadir, a dual Impulse Response (IR) convolver amplifier cabinet to boost your guitars in the mix. This is a tamer, more traditional amp effect coming in with frequency filters and resonance controls.
Get this insane bundle for free here.
Vocoder by TAL Software
This is a digital emulation of a vintage vocoder perfect for modern productions or if you are looking for that classical 1980s vocoder effect. You load it into your vocal, or any audio track to begin using it. You can choose which waveform these plug-in layers to your audio sample be it pulse, saw, sub or just noise, control how much of this effect is added to your sample, and finetune the effect. You also have a frequency equalizer to control your sound coupled with a de-essing control, add harmonics, control the range of frequencies added to your audio sample, add chorus to make the output sound bigger, and choose how you want the vocoder to behave, as an audio effect in carrier mode or as a modulator
Get this plug-in for free here.
Fresh Air by Slate Digital
Certain plug-ins make you feel guilty using them for free. Fresh Air is one of them. It is so simple but also so effective. You need this plug-in to lift your tracks or specific instrument buses that are quite dull, and your EQ is not quite hitting the mark. Fresh Air acts as a wide-band, and high-shelf equalizer, controlled by the mid-air and high-air knobs. You can link these two parameters and bypass them together. The trim control acts as the universal plug-in output gain.
The simplicity and incredible results are unmatched in its class. Get Fresh Air here for free.
Diablo Lite by Cymatics
Diablo Lite is a beast in drum and 808 shapings. This plug-in will make your drums and 808s cut through your mix like butter. It behaves like a dynamic compressor with only 2 main knobs to control Diablo’s transient shaping (Punch) and the clip acts as a ratio control that would act in a compressor. You can then choose between soft and hard, which is the Knee parameter you would find in a compressor. Control how much signal comes into and out of Diablo, and balance your wet and dry signals with the 3 knob dials at the bottom of the plug-in window.
Get Diablo Lite here for free.
PSP PianoVerb by PSP AudioWare
PianoVerb is designed to give you the type of resonance you would get when you play a large grand piano with the sustain pedal held down throughout. You would be essentially letting the strings in the body of the piano ring resonate with each other to create a wild and large harmonic resonance, all the while musical.
The parameter controls are not anything too different from what you find in ant typical reverb with decay and mix controls, but what is special about this plug-in is the tuning, detuning and transpose feature, allowing you to control how the reverb resonates with the dry signal and the damping control which acts as a pseudo-low-pass filter, or simply how a grand piano’s lid changes the sound characteristics of the piano when closed, slightly open, or fully open.
Grab PianoVerb here.
GSatPlus by TBPro Audio
This is an exclusive saturation effect plug-in modelled after the vintage- digital CS5501 channel strip. You will get different saturation modes or presets with this plug-in that will help you get started, and an oversampler and clip control, all important elements when saturating a sample to make it have that vintage tape warmth and colour. The stage control knob effectively allows you to add more ‘ vacuum tubes’ and a character control allowing you to make your playback sound more skewed and unstable rather than the clean and polished amount of saturation you find in digital saturators.
This plug-in is perfect for bass, drum, vocals and synths in any genre, effectively making your sound grimier, harsher and crisp. Find this plug-in here.
Sample Editor Plug-ins
A sample editor is a tool that helps you make your samples truly your own. You can control how a sample sounds, and behaves when played and its waveform and chop it into playable pieces. I have covered how to use Ableton’s native sample editors here, and how to sample and resample on Ableton here if you need more information on sampling.
Drop Designer by Skybox Audio
This plug-in will help you stay creative as it does the heavy lifting for you. Simply drag and drop your sample into the plug-in, and it instantly detects how loud the plug-in is and levels it out, as well as detects its pitch to map it to your midi controller, effectively making it a playable instrument. You can choose to play your sample in reverse or one-shot mode, affect its waveform, and select from its native presets for a wide variety of cool resamples to your audio.
Affect your sample’s stereo width without the need for reverb, and play it back with it resampled with a sub-bass effect. Add saturation with the colour knob, and most of all you can detune it to skew the sample. Get this plug-in free here.
There are thousands of free, each with its qualities and unique aspects, but here is a guide to help you get started. You do not need to get the most expensive and coveted plug-ins in the market to get good-quality sounds. Experiment with the ones I have posted on this list, and explore more to find the ones that work best with your production style, but most of all, have fun!