Okay, so I gotta admit, I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while now. You know how it is, I’m that guy who can’t help but compare every new plugin to the real deal (if I even own it).
And if I don’t own it, I’ll even rent it just to prove that the plugin version sucks and nothing will ever come close. But, I’ve gotta say, I’ve been proven wrong more times than I’d like to admit.
But, hey, that’s actually pretty sweet news for all you new producers out there. I mean, you’re getting like 85-90% of the magic of the real thing with software that’s only a fraction of the price of the real thing. That’s almost too good to be true.
And sometimes, these plugins are even FREE! I mean, what’s up with that? Today, I’m gonna nerd out and take a deep dive into one of the most amazing free instruments out there: the piano. And, trust me, the best free piano VST / plugins are indeed legit.
Table of Contents
- Is It As Good as the Paid Version?
- 1. Spitfire Audio Labs – Autograph Grand (VST Mac & Windows)
- 2. Heavyocity – Foundations (Free Kontakt Player, Mac & PC)
- 3. Orchestral Tools – Sinefactory Spindle
- 4. Melda Productions – Monastery Grand (VST Mac & Windows)
- 5. Bitsonic – KeyZone Classic (VST Mac & Windows)
Why Piano VST plugins being free is so freaking awesome is because of the crazy cost it takes just to create a Piano sample library in the first place.
You need mad expensive gear off the bat: a bomb piano, hopefully expertly tuned, in a sick space, mic’d up expertly with a wide variety of expensive, sometimes vintage mics and from different perspectives.
I could go on and on, but you feel me, and that’s not even half the crew. So how can it actually be any good if it’s free? Well, here’s the million-dollar question (literally).
From all my years using VSTs and orchestral libraries while working on films and TV, I’ve noticed that free plugins are usually just a taste of what you can really get with the paid version, and there’s nothing wrong with that sneak peek.
However, over the years, the free ones have actually gotten really good and not just a watered-down version of the paid ones. And that’s some great news.
Is It As Good as the Paid Version?
Okay, let me just be straight with you from the start: the answer is no. But, I’ll give you some examples and explain why, as well as how close they come to the paid alternatives.
But, hey, these are free! That’s pretty awesome, and I’ll even say that I was pleasantly surprised by how well they work on their own.
So, let’s get started with the best free piano VST / plugins.
1. Spitfire Audio Labs – Autograph Grand (VST Mac & Windows)
Spitfire Audio is hands down the best when it comes to orchestral and film score libraries, in my humble opinion. I mean, I’ve tried ’em all, from VSL to EastWest, but Spitfire just takes the cake. Their Free Labs series is awesome! There’s so much cool stuff to choose from, it’s insane.
This piano is sampled from the Yamaha C6 Grand piano located at Woodshed Recording in Malibu, CA.
Now, the guys at Spitfire sure know how to market their stuff and name-drop like pros. I mean, most of their collections have a famous artist or composer attached, especially Hans Zimmer.
And the “Autograph” part of the name? Well, apparently everyone from Bono to Coldplay to Lady Gaga has played on this piano and left their mark, so there you go.
The whole Autograph naming thing might be a bit cheesy, but dang, it sounds amazing. It’s totally what you’d expect from Yamaha’s C series – crisp and bright with tons of attack and power.
The C series isn’t exactly famous for its warmth, so it’s not really the best for the lows. But that’s what makes it a perfect pop piano. To me, it’s more like a Bechstein than a Steinway.
In their typical Spitfire fashion, they’ve gone all out with the sampling. They’ve included pedal up/down samples, as well as real release triggers. It’s super realistic.
And get this – you won’t even need any extra players like Kontakt, because it comes in Spitfire’s own app. As you’d expect from Spitfire, they’ve kept things minimal with only three controls for tweaking. The rest is done behind the scenes, so you don’t have to worry about it.
There’s only one preset available.
The three controls you do have are Expression, Dynamics, and Tightness or Reverb.
So, as the title says, you can trust this article because it was written by yours truly – a producer. Let me give you some humble advice on how to use this piano.
Right off the bat, it’s super Pop/Rock. It’s got a more modern Elton John and John Legend vibe than Coldplay, but it’s seriously versatile. I could easily see it being used by anyone going for that Lady Gaga, Queen meets Max Martin type of sound.
Opinion and Paid Alternative
This one’s definitely great! It feels amazing to play and sounds super realistic. If you’re willing to spend over $300, the paid alternative, Spectrasonics Keyscape, is even better. They sampled the Yamaha C7, and it’s seriously upscale.
But this free instrument is unbeatable. It could even be a teaser version of their Hans Zimmer Piano, although they used a darker Steinway for that. If you’re looking to upgrade, their Originals series is a solid choice at around $29 and has some sick upright pianos too.
2. Heavyocity – Foundations (Free Kontakt Player, Mac & PC)
Heavyocity is another heavy hitter in the film score game, so no surprise here that it’s awesome. You’ll need Native Instruments’ free Kontakt player to use it, but let’s be real, you probably already have some version of their iconic sampler plugin if you’re reading this.
This one’s got more choices than Spitfire Autograph and it’s also a dampened soft piano, so it’s like a felt piano for intimate sounds.
The two big sources are Soft Grand Piano and Ambient Piano Texture.
Ambient Piano Texture is super ambient and geared toward pad and mood cinematic film stuff.
And check this out: they’ve included a mixer to blend the two pianos. That opens up so many sound possibilities. Plus, they’ve got effects, envelopes, and an arpeggiator section, so it’s almost like having a full-blown synth.
I mean, seriously, this is all free. Crazy, right?
Heavyocity has always been a big shot in the world of epic film, trailers, and video game music. So it’s no shocker that this piano – while intimate – can also crank out some serious epic noises.
Just the names of the effects – Punch, Delay, and Reverb – give you a clue. I mean, these guys made a library of chaos called Damage.
The sound is intimate yet super modern and in-your-face, with sharp transients that go great with the gate and arpeggiator.
This plugin is serious! You can create all kinds of sick rhythms and textures with it. It’s perfect for film scoring.
Personally, I’d use it to make pulse-pounding thriller scores. You can make some dope organic arpeggios and blend them with the ambient piano sounds to score any kind of scene.
For songs, you can get some indie Bon Iver vibes if you make it a bit darker.
Opinion and Paid Alternative
This one is basically a teaser for their Ascend Modern Grand piano, which I actually own and use all the time. Aspire gives you way more options and flexibility for rhythm creation, but honestly, you might not even need it. These guys were super generous with this one.
3. Orchestral Tools – Sinefactory Spindle
Another awesome film-scoring monster has joined the free economy. Orchestral Tools is totally aligned with the European classical scoring sensibility that Spitfire brings to the table.
So, their Sinefactory line of free instruments is in competition with the Spitfire Labs. They have a grand called Ratio based on a Steinway B, but personally, I’m not a fan. It just doesn’t make the cut for this list.
The Spindle, on the other hand, is pretty sweet. It’s their Felt Piano based on a rare upright piano. As for controls, you have the basic ones that come with all OT Sinefactory plugins.
A lot of folks think pianos with felt sound kinda dark and muffled. But this one? It’s got that crisp presence like the Heavyocity one, but even more in your face.
And you know what’s cool? Upright-felt pianos are usually easier to record because the soundboard resonance is more contained, so it sounds closer to your ears. Plus, this bad boy is based on a rare Rosler Upright Piano, so it’s got some serious vintage vibes going on.
Since Rosler is part of the Petrof piano family, you can totally understand why it’s got that vintage vibe. Petrof has been making pianos since the 19th century, and even Paul McCartney and Ray Charles have used them before.
When I played this one, I totally thought of the Beatles. It’s kinda got a more modern, Hi-Fi McCartney sound than those old Challen piano days at Abbey Road, but it’s still got that same style.
I’d totally use this as a piano and vocal instrument. It’s seriously amazing. You gotta show it off because it sounds super realistic and full. Plus, I’m diggin’ the fact that it’s pretty dry too.
Opinion and Paid Alternative
This could be the perfect little tease to make you want to get your hands on some of their amazing Patina uprights or fancy Orchestral Grands, which come not with one, but two Steinways.
But let me tell you, this one is pretty unique. It’s more like the Spitfire Olafur Arnalds felt piano, which is also super tasty, although it’s quite expensive.
This is yet another example of a company providing you with a great free instrument that they could easily charge $49 to $99 for.
4. Melda Productions – Monastery Grand (VST Mac & Windows)
So, I’ve been playing around with this one recently, and gotta say, it’s pretty sweet. They sampled a W. Hoffman piano that’s pretty rare, so you won’t be hearing it all over the place.
Apparently, the piano was recorded in a monastery in the Czech Republic. I wasn’t familiar with the Hoffmann brand, so I did some digging. Turns out it’s part of the Bechstein family, which makes sense since I dig it.
Now, the plugin itself comes packed with a bunch of cool options that usually only come with fancy, expensive versions. You get to choose between three different mic positions – A, B, and C – which use over a dozen stereo mics to give you different mix perspectives from the sampling session.
There are also a bunch of tone controls for color, width, bass, body, and air. And get this, there’s even a section for release, size, and ambience. That’s usually only found on modeled pianos, not sampled ones.
All in all, they really packed in a lot of features for a free plugin.
Ok, so apart from the Yamaha C Series, the Bechstein is the only one that really has that instant pop/rock brightness, you know? And let me tell you, this one has it in spades!
Plus, the fact that it was sampled in a monastery gives it a bit of natural room ambiance, which is pretty cool, right? It’s like a great combination of modern and elegant. I’d even say it has some Bosendorfer qualities.
Let me tell you, it’s just perfect for jazz and blues. The attack is totally balanced and the sustain changes are amazing. You can even use it for Latin jazz, house music, or anything that requires a lot of attack because it’s not too dark and resonant.
And guess what? It also comes with this cool add-on creative unit called MonasteryGrand Creative. It’s like a sound-designed version of the original samples, perfect for all you cinematic sound lovers out there.
Opinion and Paid Alternative
This could be a teaser for their massive paid MeldwayGrand piano, except that it is based on a Steinway and sounds deeper and darker.
So, if you’re thinking about throwing down some cash, the UVI Keysuite acoustic collection might be up your alley. It’s got some super rare European pianos sampled in some pretty slick studios all over France.
All in all, if you want a piano that can really take a beating and sound great in the mix, this is the one for you.
5. Bitsonic – KeyZone Classic (VST Mac & Windows)
Alright, let’s wrap up this article with one that throws in some electric piano options. Now, some of you may be thinking that another piano deserves this spot, but hear me out. I’ll explain why I chose this one in the “Production Tips” section.
It’s super easy to use. You got your ADSR and reverb but wait for it… Detune and LFO! These two are total game-changers, and not many piano or Rhodes VSTs have them, particularly the free ones. And hey, I’ll even show you some cool producer wizardry below.
And here’s the kicker – it comes with five different types of pianos and keyboards:
- KeyZone Piano
- Yamaha Grand Piano
- Steinway Piano
- Basic Electric Piano
- Rhodes Piano
Okay, so check it out: these pianos are straight-up garbage, but that’s why they’re so awesome!
I’m not sure if they did it on purpose, but they’re just begging to be LoFied. It’s like they took a crappy EMU Performer and mixed it with a Roland JV series piano. It’s bad in the best way possible. Slap it on a deep house mix and you’ve got yourself some legit Chicago house vibes.
Modern music, all of it! Hip hop, trap, EDM, house, chillout, retro, nu-disco—you get my point. It’s like the top 100 Splice packs in a free piano plugin.
Although you may have to add some cool lo-fi effects like Arturia’s Mello-Fi or Plugin Alliance’s Warp to really go modern, the fact that it has the detune and LFO on it is fantastic. I’ve already made some crazy KAYTRANADA and Poolside-type lo-fi hip hop with this, and it’s amazing.
Opinion and Paid Alternative
This one’s got a bunch of alternatives, but it’s special enough to stand on its own. Sure, the UVI Keysuite Electric and Digital can handle those cringy 90s boxes and keyboards like a pro, but boy, are they expensive! You could also splurge on the Roland Cloud subscription to get some of those JD-800 sounds, but that’ll cost ya too.
But this one’s just a blast, isn’t it? It’s quirky and funky, just like today’s music. Love it!