How to Create a Heavy Guitar Tone with 100% Free Plugins

Chain Header


You don’t have to break the bank to achieve a guitar tone that’ll make your neighbors hate you.


Becoming DIY musicians purely out of necessity has taught us many lessons about how to achieve the goals we’re after as a band in the most efficient (mainly financial) manner possible.


Making sure not to sacrifice quality in the name of saving a few bucks is the way we go about things. If we can achieve what we’re after for free or for a low cost, we’re all about it. Recording our debut EP A Forged Reality was a perfect example of this.


The entire EP was recorded, mixed, mastered, etc. 100% by us. This, as you can imagine, comes with a mountain of challenges. However, with challenge comes growth... Or something like that.


Let’s get at it.


In this blog post, I want to cover how to achieve a tone similar to what you can hear on A Forged Reality. Assuming you read the title of this post, you understand this is going to be for making a heavy guitar tone. If you’re after something softer, I’m afraid your search doesn’t end here.


(Disclaimer: the actual guitar tone on the EP has a couple paid plugins, but I promise it will be of comparable quality.) 


Alright enough chit chat, let’s get into the meat and potatoes.


The Chain


Here's a video of us going in to detail about setting up this chain. 


To begin, each plugin will have a link under the title to a download where you can pick up these gems for yourself.


Also, massive props to the wonderful people who create these plugins and make them available to all of us for no cost whatsoever. I haven’t the slightest clue how to actually make a plugin, so my awe and admiration is completely with them.


Most of these plugin creators have the option to donate to the cause - which I highly recommend, as they are doing God’s work.


Note: This whole lesson will be focused around the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) Reaper, so if you normally use another, you’ll have to adjust accordingly. The concept will be the same, the interfaces of each DAW will just be different.


  1. ReaComp

By Reaper (Download Reaper to get?)


Now to start off, I just want to say that when I make a guitar tone, I try to think of laying the plugins out as if it were a real guitar chain. This seems to be a good general rule of thumb.


So first up in the chain we have Reaper’s built-in plugin ReaComp, which as you may have guessed - is a compressor plugin. I put it first in the chain to have a nice, even signal ready to be processed by the successive plugins.


  1. TSE 808

By TSE Audio

TSE 808

Second in the chain we have the legendary TSE 808, which emulates a tube screamer pedal. (Specifically a Maxon OD-808) What this plugin does is take your tone from 6 to Midnight.


This plugin is essential and I use it in just about every single heavy tone I make.


  1. Poulin LexTAC **Discontinued (See description below)**

By LePou Plugins


Note: It appears that LePou Plugins has taken down their website, so the LexTac is not available from their page anymore - although it may uploaded elsewhere. A solid replacement for the LexTac might be the TSE X30. Tweaking it will be in the same ball park as the LexTac. 


Third up is the magnificent Poulin LexTac amp simulator. As the picture suggests, this emulates a tube amp head. Admittedly, this amp sim takes a fair amount of tweaking to get tight, but once it’s there, it gets the job done well.  


  1. KeFIR

By Piotr 'Habib' Pyrzanowski


Fourth we have the KeFIR Impulse Loader. With regards to a guitar tone, an Impulse Loader would be like a guitar cab itself, and the “impulses” you use would be like the actual sound that you hear when the guitar signal is filtered through the cab.


This plugin (or any Impulse Loader in general) is mandatory in this chain. If you have no impulse to filter the signal coming from the amp head, you will get a less than pleasant tone. Just try disabling this plugin in the chain and see what I mean.


  1. Catharsis Impulses (Not pictured)

by Ryan Harvey of Catharsis Studios


Following the Impulse Loader is - you guessed it - the impulse itself. There is a metric shit ton of free impulses out there that emulate different types of guitar cabs, and any of the impulses by Catharsis Studios are top-notch.


(Note: The original upload link to the impulses has long been lost with time so I uploaded these myself on Google Drive, so if for some reason the link doesn’t work or it’s down, just message us and we’ll send them your way.)


  1. ReaEq

By Reaper


Last but certainly not least, we have ReaEq by Reaper which is a simple, but incredibly useful equalizer plugin that will be the icing on the cake of your tone. I put it at the end of the chain so that I can “mould” the entire tone, with all of its contents included.


EQing will make or break your tone, and it’s worth it to take the time to learn the art of EQing, as it’s demands vary dramatically depending on the instrument you’re working with.


And there we have it.


As you can see, it’s not impossible to create a guitar tone using completely free tools. You just need to be patient and put in the time needed to find the plugins that are tailored to whatever sound you’re going for, and I assure you - they’re out there. (Even if you have to spend a few bucks.)


If you found this blog and it’s contents useful, please feel free to support me and the boys in Archeons by picking up some merch, following us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, yadda yadda. Any and everything helps.


Much Love.

Posted In: Music - May 31, 2019 - 3:28PM - by: Krys Escobar


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