How to Install VST Plugins: Virtual Amps and Effects for Guitar Players

By Jason Stallworth

March 11, 2020

Welcome to my complete guide on how to install VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plugins. This is specifically for guitar players looking to use virtual amps and effects for tones.

If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself frustrated more than once trying to install and use plugins. Let’s face it. Technology isn’t always perfect.

But don’t fret! I’m going to walk you through from start to finish.

This guide meant to help 2 types of musicians:

  1. Beginner guitar players who are jumping right into the modern way to recording guitar
  2. Seasoned and experienced guitarists who are making the leap to recording with virtual amps, effects, and VST plugins.

This post is based on the video below which I go through the process of installing a new plugin for the first time.

However, I encourage you to keep reading below as this post will be continuously updated based on the questions and comments on this YouTube video.

Video: Installing a Virtual Amp

In the video, I take you through the process of installing the Neural DSP Plini virtual amp. This is the free trial version.

Here are the contents and times in the video:

  • 0:56 – First, I go over the preliminary gear for those that are completely new to the virtual amp world and software-based recording.
  • 1:29 – The first step to installing VST plugins (this will avoid a huge frustration later – I’ll explain more below).
  • 2:15 – Visual of me downloading the virtual amp Plini from the Neural DSP website.
  • 4:39 – Installing the virtual amp software on my computer after the download.
  • 5:09 – Reopening your recording software to use your VST plugin (I also talk about what to do if the VST provider uses iLok).
  • 6:19 – Recap of how to install VST plugins.
  • 7:27 – You’ll get to hear me demoing the new virtual amp sim (Plini) to make sure it works!

Now let’s cover these steps to installing VST plugins in more detail below. And you may notice some additions based on the YouTube comments (you may find yours down there!).

If you are new to all of this, you may want to read my post: Complete Home Recording Studio Guide for Metal Guitarists.

This tells you everything you need for your home recording studio and how to use it (and where to get it).

1 – Close Your DAW Before Downloading VST Plugins

Before you do anything, I recommend that you close your recording software program. So if you’re following this in realtime, go ahead and save what you’re working on in your studio and close it out.

Why do I recommend this? Because I said so! I’m kidding – I’ll tell you why…

If you download and install your new plugin your studio may not detect it right away. Of course, most DAWs have a refresh button that scans for new VSTs.

However, in my experience, this doesn’t always work. I’ve found that it’s best to close everything out before proceeding (I’ll tell you when you reopen below!).

2 – Downloading Your VST Plugin

Neural DSP Plini virtual amp VST plugin

Once your DAW is closed, it’s time to download your new VST plugin. In the video, I went to the Neural DSP website and downloaded the trial version of their Plini virtual amp and effects suite.

In theory, this should be a simple process. But let’s point out the steps below because every VST provider is different.

  • Logon to the plugin provider’s website
  • Create an account (if applicable) – this makes the process easier, and some require it anyway
  • Go to the product page of the plugin you want to download
  • Click ‘download’ the appropriate version of the plugin (most will provide separate download buttons for Windows and Mac)

**TIP: Most VST plugin creators will offer a free trial version. I highly recommend going with that first before purchasing. And don’t always go by the demo videos (even mine!). Because the experience is different for everyone and you may or may not like the sounds you’re getting.

The VST plugin should be in your download folder and you can go to the next step.

You can learn more about Neural DSP plugins on their website here: Neural DSP.

You can also read more about (and hear my tones for) specific Neural DSP virtual amps I’ve demoed below:

Fortin NTS and Nameless
Archetype Nolly

3 – Install the Plugin on Your Computer

Installing VST plugins

This part is pretty simple but I felt the need to go over anyway. When something is new it’s best to have a true step-by-step tutorial.

The only thing you should have to do is click the new file for your plugin in your downloads. A new window should open and guide you through the process.

In this case, I’m using my iMac and Apple takes you through the process with a series of steps. One of those steps is using your Apple user ID and password to confirm the download.

In short, this is what you do:

  • Click on the new file in your downloads
  • A window should open up
  • Your computer will take you through a short series of steps
  • You should get a message that confirms your software has been downloaded or activated

iLok – Some VST providers use iLok. If this is the case, make sure you are logged into your iLok account before going to the next step, which is reopening your DAW.
This will save you some frustration!

Open Your DAW and Add Your Plugin to a New Track

Adding studio tracks with plugins

At this point, you’re ready to start playing through our virtual amp (or whatever VST plugin you downloaded and installed).

Here are your next steps:

  • Open your DAW
  • Create a new song/session
  • Create a new track
  • Do a search for your new plugin (and save that in your favorites if your DAW has this feature!)
  • Drag the plugin over to your new track
  • Your VST plugin should come right up so you can start playing and tweaking the settings (get ready to spend several hours on this…lol!)

What if I can’t find the VST plugin in my studio?

If you cannot find you new plugin, the first thing you should refresh your DAW so that it scans the plugin folder for new items.

Aside from that, you can close your DAW and reopen it. Most recording software programs will scan those folders as they’re coming up.

If you still do not see your plugin, go the preferences and locations in your DAW (if you’re using Presonus Studio One, go to Studio One > Preferences > Locations).

Make sure your DAW is pulling from the correct folders in your computer or make sure that your software was installed in the correct folder.

If you’re still having issues at this point, search the forums for your product and your DAW. Or reach out to their support team.

Testing Your VST Plugins

Playing guitar in the studio

I suggested earlier that you always download the free trial version before purchasing any VST plugin. I want to dig deeper into this because you don’t want to waste your money and be stuck with something you don’t like.

Spend the next couple of days going through all of the features and settings. If it’s a virtual amp, test all of the amp’s possibilities and make sure you can easily dial in a good guitar tone that you’re happy with.

Now, you may be saying ‘Duh, Jason, I already know that!’

But let me remind you of how excited we can get about new gear and tones. We play through something and we’re fascinated by it. But then we come back the next day and we feel like something’s missing.

So test it thoroughly the day you download the plugin, the next day, and the next. If you’re still happy with it, then pull the trigger and purchase the full version. That’s just my two cents.

I hope this post saves you some time and frustration with downloading and installing plugins. I’ll keep this post updated based on any questions and comments I get on the YouTube video.

Keep it Metal,


Jason Stallworth

About the author

Jason is a melodic metal solo artist, songwriter, acoustic performer, and co-founder of Metal Mastermind.

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