No matter if you’re making classical music, writing underscores or producing hip hop beats, harps are beautiful instruments that can add a whole other level of atmosphere to a track. Unfortunately, many commercial harp sample libraries are pretty expensive – especially if you want to use harp sounds only occasionally. That’s why I’ve put together a short list of good free harp VST plugins and libraries on this page.
Free Harps & Celtic Harps
Versilian Studios: Etherealwinds Harp II: Community Edition
Formats: VST, AU, SFZ
A few years ago, Versilian Studios released Etherealwinds Harp. This free harp VST became so popular that Versilian has now published version 2, which updates both interface and sound. Etherealwinds Harp II: Community Edition is a reduced version of Etherealwinds Harp II, which the company calls “quite possibly the most complete lever harp library in existence”.
The 255 samples span over five octaves (C2 – A6) and come across very smooth, harmonious and easy to blend into any soft, dreamy arrangement. To get more control over your sound, you can change the amp envelope, volume, pan and reverb. While not accessible through the instrument interface itself, the download of Etherealwinds Harp II Community Edition comes with seven effect samples (.wav) and 16 vocal samples, taken from the vocal library included in Etherealwinds Harp II.
DSK Music: DSK World StringZ
DSK World StringZ offers more than just harp sounds. In fact, the instrument includes a total of eight world instruments: cumbus, dobro, kanun, koto, dulcimer, tar, Turkish oud and a Celtic harp. Obviously, this Celtic harp is what I was mostly interested in for this list. Playing around with it, I found the sound to be quite present and earthy as I would expect from a Celtic harp. I especially enjoyed the lower tones, which feel a little more mysterious.
The interface offers you control over the amp envelope, the fine tuning and a filter (HP or LP). You can also automate all these values via MIDI. One word of warning: The fine tuning slider does not give you numeric values or offer a simple way to reset (that I know of) – so if you change the tuning, it might be difficult to get back to the original tuning setting. One feature that DSK World StringZ doesn’t have is a built-in reverb. Obviously, you can always slap on your DAW reverb (or any of your favorite effects plugins) if you want to add more space. No matter if you’re looking for a Celtic harp or if you can use some world strings in your production, this is a cool little plugin to try out!
Format: Kontakt Library; full retail version of Native Instruments Kontakt 4.2.4 or higher is required
Microharp from Dream Audio Tools is another Celtic harp. In this case, a “very small wooden Celtic harp” was sampled with four round robins for each articulation. The instrument comes with two main articulations, picked and fingered, as well as with a patch that mixes both articulations. While the picked samples sound smoother and more traditionally harp-like, the fingered patch has an almost surprising “ethnic” feel to it. Its particular character might not work that well in classical pieces, but it could add some interesting textures to other genres.
The Kontakt library features four octaves, with the lowest note being C2 (not surprising due to the size of the instrument). For effects, it offers a delay and a reverb. Not a ton, but certainly useable!
To get DAT Microharp, you will have to add it to your shopping cart on the Dream Audio Tools website and check out.
Performance Samples: River Harp
Format: Kontakt Library; full retail version of Native Instruments Kontakt 5.5.1 or higher is required
River Harp by Performance Samples is a little different from most instruments in this article. Instead of offering individually plucked string samples, you will find a collection of textures and glissandi here. The name “River Harp” is quite a fitting description of the sound as the performances come across as flowing and organic. These are the kinds of textures that we composers and producers would love to create and re-create with harp VST plugins but typically have a hard time doing so.
While the sounds themselves are fun, using them can be tricky because they’re not time-synced. While this is not such an issue with the glissandi (which you wouldn’t expect to stick to being time-synced anyway), it might take some additional time stretching work to fit the textures into an existing arrangement.
What’s really cool (and definitely not expected for a free instrument) is that River Harp is recorded with two mics (close and far), which you can mix and pan to your taste. This added flexibility makes the River Harp easier to mix. The creators of River Harp also want you to know that some of the tails are cut-off and only minimal noise reduction was applied (the honesty is appreciated!).
To get River Harp, you will have to check out through Performances Samples’ online shopping system.
Sonatina Symphony Orchestra Harp
Format: Kontakt Library; full retail version of Kontakt is required (unfortunately, I’m not sure which one, but I’m guessing 4 and higher).
Sonatina Symphony Orchestra was a project by Mattias Westlund. More than 10 years ago, he created a free orchestral sample library primarily aimed at beginner composers. Today, this original library is not online anymore, however, a derivative version still exists at Bigcat Instruments. This version also includes a concert harp patch, which I found surprisingly useable due to its straight, classical sound.
The Kontakt patch allows you to change the amp envelope, the reverb and the EQ (at 100 Hz, 1kHz and 5kHz – which turn out to be great frequencies to play with). I would probably use this with a convolution reverb, since the built-in reverb sounds somewhat unflattering (at least in the wetter settings).
Sonatina Symphony Orchestra Harp is super easy to install: Simply download and save the patch into your Kontakt libraries folder.
Other Harp Instruments
Decent Samples: Bowed Nagoya Harp (Taishōgoto)
Format: Kontakt Library; full retail version of Native Instruments Kontakt 5.3.1 or higher is required
The Taishōgoto is also known as the Nagoya harp and is a relatively modern string instrument, being invented in 1912. The pitch of the individual strings can be changed by pressing a number of typewriter-like keys. Although the Taishōgoto is typically strummed, for this Kontakt library by Decent Samples, the instrument was played with a violin bow. So if you’re looking for a plucked sound, this instrument won’t match your needs.
Instead, this library offers a texture-heavy bowing sound that lies somewhere between viola, harmonica and world instrument (check out the audio example to hear what it sounds like). While this is maybe not the most powerful sound on its own, I could imagine using this as a layer to add an interesting texture. One drawback I found while playing it is that the samples are somewhat short and the loop very noticeable. Unfortunately, this means that the library is not great for creating longer static pad sounds (if you use different note start points, you can achieve a nice effect where notes are rhythmically fading in and out, though).
Besides ADSR envelope and reverb, you also have control over the level of the two microphones that were used: an Oktava mic and a contact microphone. Since these are quite different in character, I’ve found it fun to play around with them and dial in a sound I enjoy.
To get the Bowed Nagoya Harp by Decent Samples, you will have to register with your name and email address.
Over to you…
Do you know of any other good free harp VSTs or libraries? Let us know in the comments!