This is a hand selected and curated list of sampled music instrument libraries for software samplers that musicians can use without worrying, but which are also free and open source. This is also a text about licensing. Through strict requirements and thorough research we hope that this list can be trusted.
There seem to be many lists on the internet that catalogue virtual musical instruments on a sample basis. This list is, as far as I know, unique in terms of what is included, or better: excluded. Some (much!) explanation is needed. If you just care about music making you can just scroll down and visit the links. However, I believe knowing the following is important as well:
We want the greatest possible freedom, not only in usage but also in modification and re-distribution. For this our goal is to give the musician unambiguous clarity as to what is allowed with these instruments. In short, the answer to "May I use the instrument in/for...?" must always be "Yes".
The strict constraints mean that this list will never be very large. Creating sampled instruments is a time-consuming and expensive task and is usually undertaken with the intention of making money from the result, thus not distributing the instrument as free and open source. This is by no means condemnable, but in this case it is simply not our topic.
That said, we do not even try to become a comprehensive list, quite the opposite: everything is hand picked, so instruments are actual recommendations, not just a neutral database. They either have to be of decent quality, or at least be the only ones of their kind.
If you have a suggestion for another instrument please send it by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. A short note and a link are sufficient. All suggestions will be reviewed by me.
To be included in this list, the following conditions must be met, with no exceptions:
- The instrument libraries can be used without the musicians having to worry about license agreements. There are no conditions and restrictions for playing or recording music. No fees, no attribution, no limitations.
- The instrument files may be further copied and distributed by anyone, without any restrictions, even for money.
- The file format follows an open specification. The sound files are uncompressed. or lossless compressed. Such as .sfz or pure audio files, as .wav or .flac format.
If there are no alternatives, (undocumented) binary formats may also be included, provided they are usable through open source libraries. For example the legacy formats .sf2 soundfonts and .gig
- Verified origin and authorship. Who recorded the instruments and produced and edited the files, and when? Is it credibly explained that these authors also had all necessary rights?
- The instruments can be edited and modified and these modifications can be distributed (and sold) as well. This includes trivial conversion of file formats (.wav -> .flac), as well as cutting, retuning, editing with audio engineering and effects, and mixing and supplementing the existing instruments with other existing or new recordings. In summary: The type and extent of editing is not restricted. We only distinguish whether this editing is subject to copyleft or not.
Conditions are defined by the licence of the sample libraries. Not an entry on their websites, but included in the downloaded files. This includes both standard licences (e.g. CC-0) and also self-written licenses, e.g. a README file that explicitly allows everything.
Most popular licences for audio data (such as CC-By-Sa) do not cover the special case of a sampling library in which the actual music production is to be licence-free, but the instrument as such is subject to copyleft. In this case, this additional freedom must be explicitly granted through additions to the licence.
It is also possible that an "unsuitable" licence is used, such as the GPL. In this case, the intention of the authors must again be made clear through further written explanations. For example, the GPL was chosen to emphasise that the instrument data itself may only be changed under copyleft, but that the resulting music is not subject to licensing. This is analogous to documents produced in LibreOffice or images created in GIMP, which, after all, are also not subject to the GPL copyleft. But a software licence is not transferable 1 to 1 to audio data of sampled instruments.
License for your own Sample Libraries
I am not a lawyer, nor trained in legal matters. This is not legal advice.
My personal experience leads me to believe, that the following license combination is the optimal solution if you want to create and release your own free and open source sample based library. This assumes you actually have every right to the recordings, not that you collect & reassemble "stuff found on the internet". You made (or hired) the recordings, sample files (e.g. sfz) and all other attached resources.
If you are fine with it, release your library under CC-0. This is as straightforward and easy as it will get.
More likely (I assume) is that you want to protect your sample library from unfair exploitation. This requires some form of Copyleft. By definition (of this website) you also want resulting works (music etc.) to be not bound to any constraints or requirements. This conflict needs to be resolved without modifying court-tested existing licenses through execptions (which makes them more unreliable and uncertain) or redefining meanings (Such as using the GPL, which is made for software, with or without the font(!) exception).
Choose a dual licensing solution, based on two unmodified and well-understood and well-trusted Creative Common
Do not use unmodified CC-BY. While the license itself is fine it will create confusion because every musician, and possible re-distributers and remixers, must include the original sample authors credits, and this is not a well understood requirement of CC-By. In most cases this does not happen and is a violation of copyright and license. If you now say "But I don't care about that violation" you could just choose CC-0 instead. If you absolutely want your name attached to every subsequent derivative musical work this is not a website for you in the first place.
All software synthesizers
Any open source program that does not contain recorded audio material (samples) but generates all sounds live from program code alone fulfills all of our conditions. However, they are not the scope of this list since they aim for a different kind of sound than sampled instruments, which typically try to simulate real, acoustic instruments.
If the synthesizer software is a convincing simulation of a real instrument, acoustic, (electro-)mechanical, it will be included in this list as well.
Versilian Studios Chamber Orchestra: Community Edition
- Source: https://vis.versilstudios.com/vsco-community.html link visited: 2021-05-22
- Credits: Versilian Studios All engineers and musicians link visited: 2021-05-22
- License: CC-0
- Format: sfz
- Our description: A set of orchestral instruments with the most common articulations. Quality-comparisons with other libraries are meaningless since this is the only orchestra library that exists under our conditions.
- Quote: VSCO 2 Community Edition (CE) is an open-source, open-ended subset of the main VSCO 2 library designed for young composers, hobbyist sample library developers, and students around the world to create better sounding music for free and learn more about the process of sample library development. The library is under a Creative Commons 0 (i.e. public domain) license.
Versilian Studios Community Sample Library
- Source: https://vis.versilstudios.com/vcsl.html link visited: 2021-05-22
- Credits: Versilian Studios with unnamed musicians (see above)
- License: CC-0
- Format: sfz
- Our description: Additional instruments not found in the Versilian Chamber Orchestra library.
- Quote: The Versilian Community Sample Library is an open CC0 general-purpose sample library created by Versilian Studios LLC for the purpose of introducing a set of quality, publicly available samples suitable for use in software and media of all kinds. This library is intended to be a broader expansion to the VSCO 2 CE sample set. This collection is under a Creative Commons 0 license. Essentially it's Public Domain- you can do whatever you want with these sounds (even make commercial software), no royalties, no credit, no special terms. [...] During the course of making commercial sample libraries, test sample sets, canceled projects, and other content is generated which is destined to never see the light of day for a variety of reasons. We created VCSL so we could share all of these projects with you, as well as light versions of our commercial products. [...]
Versilian Studios Miscellania I & II
- Source 1: https://vis.versilstudios.com/miscellania.html link visited: 2021-05-22
- Source 2: https://vis.versilstudios.com/miscellania-ii.html link visited: 2021-05-22
- Credits: Versilian Studios with unnamed musicians (see above)
- License: CC-0
- Format: .wav
- Our description: Sound effects and percussion one-shots and triggers.
- Quote: Miscellania I : Horror is a fun little plugin of six whole octaves capable of spooky effects and more... Includes percussive hits, chain rattles, bubbling cauldrons, creepy gongs, whistles, and more. // Miscellania II: If it makes a ringing, rattling, or metallic shaking sound, it's probably in here somewhere. // Both: Sounds under CC0 license via the VSCO 2 CE project. Freely reuse and build upon, including commercial works.
- http://www.bandshed.net/avldrumkits/ link visited: 2021-05-28
- Credits: Glen MacArthur (AV-Linux), 2015, LV2 by R.Gareus
- License: CC-By-Sa with exception "non-sample-library works can be licensed freely" Read the linked license file if you want to modify and re-distribute the sample lib itself, if you want to make music (or something else) nothing is needed.link visited: 2021-05-28
- Formats: sfz, LV2 (with graphics), Hydrogen, sf2.
- Our description: Two drumkits: "Red Zeppelin" and "Black Pearl". Sound good as-is, but there is no pre-processed sound design, so you can mix them as you like. Also fine for 70s Rock.
- Quote: High Quality, Resource Efficient Drum Samples:[...] The two kits are quite different so it gave a nice variety of kit pieces to sample. Additionally while I was at it it I grabbed a bunch of hand percussion stuff we had laying around and sampled it too. The dealio with these kits are they have 5 velocity layers per kit piece and have a very small memory footprint so they are ideal for using with DAWs or Sequencers on computers new and old.
Flame Studios Guitars, Bass, Banjo
- Source: https://www.flamestudios.org/free/GigaSamples link visited: 2021-05-28
- Credits: Gary Campion (FlameStudios), 2008.
- License: GPLv3+ with this re-definitions: "The source code being the gig files (of which contain the audio samples and settings) [...] This license means that you can do what you like with them but if you create any samples from them or improve on them then you have to use the same license in your projects. This way it keeps it open source (and therefore free). This license is only concerned with the source code. Any music you create with them is nothing to do with me (i.e. you take all the royalties and use whatever license you like)."
- Formats: GigaStudio. Sf2 soundfonts (stripped down version) available on the site directy. Some SFZ Ports of the .gig files are also linked link visited: 2021-05-28
- Our description: Various plucked string instruments, such as (electric) guitars and basses. Also a 5 string Banjo (check if you like it from the audio demos on the FS site).
- Quote: "The FlameStudios Collection is my collection of samples that I am making." (News Entry 2008-08-17). This is [beginning of each instrument]: An acoustic guitar suited to bluesy rhythm -- Another acoustic guitar. This one sounds nice for fingerpicking arrangements. -- a very rounded sounding electro-acoustic bass -- a more muffled bass, suited for blending in or behind distorted guitars but useful for any situation when a bass sound without so much clarity is needed -- a 5 string closed back banjo -- a Japanese Fender Jaguar electric guitar played on the both pick-ups setting and is played through a Fender Bassman '59 Reissue withold valves in -- American Fender Telecaster electric guitar -- American Gibson Les Paul electric guitar -- a variety of percussion instruments -- solid body bass guitar that has a full deep sound -- Japanese Fender Jaguar [and more]
- Source: https://kokkinizita.linuxaudio.org/linuxaudio/aeolus/index.html link visited: 2021-05-22
- Credits: Fons Adriaensen, 2004-today. link visited: 2021-05-22
- License: GPLv3. This is actually the GPLv3 because Aeolus is a software simulation. No exceptions are needed.
- Format: Software
- Our description: Pipe Organ synthesizer. You should already know how to setup a real organ for playing when using this. Or better: Use the opportunity to learn it for this instrument.
- Quote: "Aeolus is a synthesised (i.e. not sampled) pipe organ emulator that should be good enough to make an organist enjoy playing it. It is a software synthesiser optimised for this job, with possibly hundreds of controls for each stop, that enable the user to "voice" his instrument."
- Source: http://setbfree.org/ link visited: 2021-05-22
- Credits: F. Kilander, W. Panther, R. Gareus, K. Restivo, 2012-today. link visited: 2021-05-22
- License: GPLv2. This is actually the GPLv2 because setBFree is a software simulation. No exceptions are needed.
- Format: Software
- Our description: Rock Organ synthesizer. Software exists as standalone version as well as LV2 plugin "setBfree DSP Tonewheel Organ"
- Quote: "Software synthesizer designed to imitate the sound and properties of the electromechanical organs and sound modification devices that brought world-wide fame to the names and products of Laurens Hammond and Don Leslie."
The Other List
There is also another list which contains instruments that can be used with small restrictions. However, these are not "worry free": You need to read license agreement texts yourself and follow them.
Web-Links and other Sources
Other lists and databases exist for sampled instruments. Please be very careful and sceptical what you download and use. I think it needs even clearer words: Assume people are uninformed, lazy or outright lying when it comes to sampling copyright. Any place where anyone can submit changes (github lists, database websites, web-forums) should be treated as untrustworthy until the opposite is proven. Each download or library must be examined anew as an individual case.
From all known sites only FreePats has similar ideals and scrutiny-standards as this list, albeit a different mission statement.