Virtual guitars are convenient music-making tools, but making them sound realistic can be a challenge. To do this, you need to recreate the intricacies that occur naturally when recording real guitars. We’ll be looking at five tips to make virtual guitars sound real. These tips include using realistic strumming and picking patterns, implementing real guitar techniques, choosing chord voicings that a guitarist would use, adding artifacts and noise, and stacking guitar layers together.

Start a MEGA Bundle trial to demo all the Plugin Alliance products mentioned in this blog post. It provides free access to all of Plugin Alliances products for 30 days. Some of the noteworthy virtual guitars included in the bundle are WEDGE FORCE’s Hydro (7-string electric DI), Matcha (6-string electric DI), and Oolong (6-string acoustic). There’s also a virtual bass guitar included in the bundle called Keemun.

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1. Create Realistic Strumming and Picking Patterns


Creating realistic strumming and picking patterns with a virtual guitar like Hydro involves understanding how real guitarists play their instruments. Afterward, we’ll look at how you can replicate the behavior using the features available in Hydro.

There’s a human element involved in realistic strumming; not every note is played at the same velocity or perfectly on beat. In your DAW’s MIDI note editor, you can emulate this effect by varying the velocity of each note in a chord. If you’re using Ableton, try using the Groove Pool feature to apply subtle grooves to your MIDI arrangements or program custom grooves manually.

An image of Ableton's Groove Pool

Figure 1: Ableton’s Groove Pool.

In Hydro, you can toggle between velocity presets, which load different Velocity Map settings. By adjusting the Velocity Map sliders, it’s possible to customize the gain applied to each velocity range. With the following Velocity Map settings, low velocity values will result in quiet notes and progressively increase in level when you play notes with a higher velocity value.

An image of Wedge Force Hydro's Velocity Map

Figure 2: WEDGE FORCE Hydro’s Velocity Map.

Randomizing these settings will make your performances less predictable. You may want to stagger the velocity sliders like in the following image.

An image of random Velocity Map settings

Figure 3: Random Velocity Map settings.

When a guitarist strums a chord, they don’t hit all the strings at exactly the same moment. Rather, the notes are played in quick succession, from the lowest to the highest string or vice versa. The resulting sound depends on the direction of the strum.

In WEDGE FORCE’s virtual guitars, you can replicate a strumming effect using the Strumming Note Offset knob and the Picking dropdown menu. Turning up the Strumming Note Offset knob increases the delay between notes when you play a chord on your keyboard.

Image of Wedge Force Hydro's Strumming Note Offset knob

Figure 4: WEDGE FORCE Hydro’s Strumming Note Offset knob.

Here’s what the Strumming Note Offset feature does to chords using WEDGE FORCE’s Oolong.


The direction of the strum is dictated by the Picking option you’ve selected. Auto AI mode predicts the correct picking direction based on the tempo of playing, neck position, and the velocity of the previously played note. Whereas the other modes (Up/Down/Alternate) result in the picking behavior that their names suggest.

Wedge Force Hydro's Picking dropdown menu

Figure 5: WEDGE FORCE Hydro’s Picking dropdown menu.

2. Use Chord Voicings that a Guitarist Would Use


Creating a realistic guitar sound using a virtual guitar requires careful use of chord voicings. As a guitarist plays, they rarely use the same voicings across all chords. Different chord voicings provide your music with an assortment of tonal character and are physically more accessible for guitarists. For instance, the voicing of the open C major chord sounds significantly different from a C major barre chord on the third fret.


The Hydro guitar synth by WEDGE FORCE offers various options for chord voicings, effectively simulating how a real guitarist would transition between chords and chord shapes. For instance, if you’re going from a C Major to an A Minor, you wouldn’t use voicings that jump all over the fretboard. A real guitarist would use voicings that are close to each other, such as transitioning from an open C Major to an open A Minor (one note difference).

An image of the finger positions for a C Major chord (top) and an A Minor chord (bottom)

Figure 6: The finger positions for a C Major chord (top) and an A Minor chord (bottom).

Hydro provides Neck Fretting Position sliders that allow you to select an area of the guitar neck where notes are played. For example, you may want to adjust the sliders to a maximum value of “8” when programming a guitar solo, moving the notes toward the 12th fret instead of the first fret.

An image of all of the Neck Fretting Position sliders set to a value of “8”.

Figure 7: All of the Neck Fretting Position sliders set to a value of “8”.

You can look up chord diagrams online if you’re not a guitarist. Chords with multiple notes that overlap tend to go well together, which makes programming chord progressions a breeze. You don’t need to be a musical savant to program chord progressions using a virtual guitar, but a basic understanding of a guitar’s fretboard will be very beneficial.

3. Implement Real Guitar Techniques


To truly create a realistic guitar sound, it’s important to mimic the subtle nuances of guitar techniques. A virtual guitar synth like Hydro is designed to reproduce the sound of a guitar, but to maximize its potential, you need to look past simply programming notes.

Hydro allows you to program mutes, where a note’s volume is reduced or completely silenced to emulate the effect of a musician muting a note with their hand. Within Hydro, the Mute Damp Force slider lets you select between Open, Light, Heavy, and Scratch mute options. Precise control over the intensity of the mute allows for more realistic muting effects. Try muting the first note of each bar or weaving other muting patterns into your arrangements; this technique can make simple strumming patterns quite interesting.

An image of Wedge Force Hydro’s Mute Damp Force slider

Figure 8: WEDGE FORCE Hydro’s Mute Damp Force slider.

Pitch bends and slides are additional elements that can add significant realism to your virtual guitar arrangements. These involve gradually changing the pitch of a note, either temporarily or creating a smooth transition from one note to another. The following video demonstrates guitar pitch bends in action.

Hydro includes a Bend Type dropdown menu that affects the behavior of your MIDI keyboard’s pitch wheel. Selecting “Bend” mode causes the pitch wheel to bend the pitch of the virtual guitar over time. In comparison, “Slide” mode causes the pitch wheel to adjust the pitch of notes, jumping in semitone intervals. If you’d like to bend/slide between more than two notes, which is the default setting, you can increase the value of the Pitch Bend slider.

An image of Wedge Force Hydro’s Bend Type dropdown menu

Figure 9: WEDGE FORCE Hydro’s Bend Type dropdown menu.

The following audio examples were created using WEDGE FORCE Hydro presets in combination with Guitar Rig. All of these audio examples contain Mod Wheel automation. In Hydro, the Mod Wheel adds harmonics to your sound, which is yet another way to create realism. Adjusting the Mod Wheel parameter while performing live with Hydro is a great way to make sustained notes feel more human.



4. Add Artifacts and Noise


Creating a realistic guitar sound with a virtual guitar synth like Hydro goes beyond the notes themselves. It’s about capturing the true essence of a guitar, which includes slight imperfections like artifacts and noise. One way of achieving this is by adding artifacts and noise using a plugin like LO-FI-AF by Unfiltered Audio.

An image of Lindell Audio’s LO-FI-AF

Figure 10: Unfiltered Audio’s LO-FI-AF.

LO-FI-AF is an ideal tool for adding realistic noise to your guitar tracks. After laying down your guitar parts using Hydro, add LO-FI-AF as an insert effect on your guitar track. It includes an assortment of sound degradation options that can age your recordings, but the “Sine Erosion – Middle A” preset does a good job of emulating buzzy string noise when you dial back LO-FI-AF’s Global Strength setting to around 10-20%.


You can also use the Noise options to apply different types of noise to your sounds, like tape hiss and vinyl noise. Selecting the “Envelope Follow” option will cause the noise to rise and fall in level alongside the level of your virtual guitar, creating the illusion that the noise is a part of your DI guitar signal.

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5. Stack Guitar Layers Together


Layering multiple instances of a virtual guitar like Hydro can produce a much richer and fuller sound, creating a more convincing guitar part. Professional rock and metal mixes often feature several guitar tracks playing together to create a wall of sound. Stacking guitars together is also an effective way to simulate the sound of a 12-string guitar or a guitar ensemble.

In the following audio example, Hydro has been inserted onto four tracks, and a different Guitar Rig preset has been applied to each one. You’ll hear the layers sound decent on their own and epic when stacked together. Each layer’s volume level has been adjusted to ensure no single layer dominates the group.


When recreating this effect yourself, remember that any reverb or delay present in your guitar recordings will sum together and become more apparent. As a result, it’s generally best to choose Guitar Rig presets that contain minimal reverb and delay. Stacking guitars together can quickly turn into a washed-out mess if you’re not diligent about your sound selection choices. You can apply reverb and delay to the guitar group using an aux track in your DAW. Treat the group like a single instrument.

Experiment with the panning on each guitar track, positioning them in different parts of the stereo field to create a wider sound. Adding track delays will widen the stereo image even further if you’ve duplicated the same DI guitar recording to each track.

Consider slightly detuning the guitars to give them a more lively, organic feel. You can either use Hydro’s Detune slider for randomized detuning results or leverage Guitar Rig’s Pitch Pedal component to detune every note by the same amount.


Subtlety is key when layering guitars to maintain a natural and realistic sound. You want your guitars to sound slightly different to create a sense of depth and thickness but not so different that the illusion of a single powerful guitar disappears.

With a virtual guitar like Hydro and a multi-effects rack and simulator like Guitar Rig, you’ll have no problem creating virtual guitar arrangements that sound real.

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