Friday, April 22, 2016

Salamander and Summer Pianos Yamaha

The Yamaha Piano tone, bright and great for cutting through mixes. These two pianos deliver a have a different approach than the two below. Both are sampled every third note but have a huge number of velocity layers making them very smooth for a free piano.

The Salamander is one of the most famous free pianos in the world. Alexander HolmFeel aka rytmenpinne sampled his roughly 25 year old Yamaha in 2010 and it instantly became an internet hit. Even today it is a good sized piano weighing in at a shade under a gig using NI's compression scheme. Back in 2010 at bout 1.2 gigs it must have brought some computers to their knees. Even if you have thins one you might want to get the new version as I hand edited all the samples for a more responsive feel.


 Creative Commons Attribution: Alexander HolmFeel

The Summer Piano was created (during the summer) from piano samples in the OLPC sample collection. Google it if you want to find an amazing collection of sounds, though usually only on torrents (legal).  This piano was "performed by computer and specifically recorded for OLPC by Dr. Mikhail Krishtal Director of Music Research and Production and his team at Zenph Studios." It is a Yamaha Disklavier Pro with a touch under 900 samples. Every third note is sampled with something like 12 velocity layers. The cool thing about this piano is that it has true sustain samples which are very rare in free pianos. When you hit the sustain pedal you are actually playing notes recorded with the sustain pedal pressed, not just a bit of computer fakery.

Creative Commons Attribution: Zenph Studios

Iowa Piano Steinway

The popularity of this Steinway Piano caught me by surprise. It has known the Reddit kiss and is probably the most popular of the Maize VSTi instruments. Sampled from a Model B, it has a warmer tone than the larger Model D that is often sampled. Evan Mazunik did the playing and Lawrence Fritts, Director of the  University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios, I believe was the engineer. Two Neumann KM 84 were suspended 8 inches above the bass and treble strings.

The piano has three velocity layers and release samples with almost every note sampled. I did drop a few of the samples that had issues, but overall it has a quite consistent sound. The Kontakt AET morph seems to work nicely on this piano to smooth out the velocity.  Weighing in at under 200 megs, this has great sound for such a small memory footprint. Just a note if you want a more massive (5 gig) free Steinway B check out the Piano in 162. I had nothing to do with it, it just impresses me.

Public Domain thanks to the University of Iowa.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

City Piano Baldwin

The only sampled Baldwin Piano in captivity and I did it myself. It is mono, at points a bit noisy and a bit inconsistent as it was sampled by me sitting at the piano trying to hit each note really hard, then not so hard and then not very hard and then really soft. And for all its flaws when I kick up a Gershwin or Porter medley, I fall in love with it. It is unlike any other digital piano in the world. Is that good or bad?

The demo made this piano and bigcat instruments. I heard Grand Illusion on Youtube and asked permission to use it. Jordan Rudess rep said go for it. That was 44 thousand plays / views ago. Many folks have complained that it didn't sound like that when they play it. I swear the Kontakt instruments was run through the midi using Studio One and uploaded. Nothing was added, just because you can't play like Jordan Rudess don't blame the piano... Oops did I say that or think that.

Anyway I sat down one day and decided to make it as perfect as I could. So I tuned the hundreds of notes and doinked around until I had it exactly how I liked it. This is my personal version warts and all. 4 velocity layers with almost every note sampled and nice 'whooshy' release samples. Over 400 samples.

Speaking of unique I ripped out the loud layers out to create the whisper piano. It has its own character that has brought thoughts of  "quiet parisian cabarets in 1910 at Montmartre" and
"an old movie" piano. But I've yammered on enough and then some, enjoy or not...

whisper piano (intimate derivation)

Public Domain.

Bureu Organ

I guess I'll toss a little Pipe Organ in between the pianos and the orchestra, after all Bach used to like them if memory serves. This 40 stop pipe organ has every note sampled and can be a bit of a memory hog. Thanks to scripting by Matt McKay, this organ is the most extensive instrument we have ever released. It features over 100 Reverbs and all kinda of crazy effects. Go nuts!

There are two buttons / lights under the organ stops. The left one turns that stop on while the right one unloads that stop from memory, so if you are running low on memory you can easily unload samples you aren't using.

This sampleset is created by Lars Palo and Graham Goode. Noise reduction of the samples was made with Nick Appletons Noise Reduce software. Scripting Adviser was Matt McKay.

This sampleset is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5. Consider this Kontakt instrument to be the same. If used commercially please credit Lars Palo.


As I've hopefully proven above, the band has many nice free options from piano to guitar to drum and more. The Orchestral section is more problematic. Fortunately we have two fairly complete orchestras and a couple solo quality instruments. The orchestras are the Sonatina and the Iowa.

The Sonatina has a lovely consistent sound and is quite nice for sections or ensembles. It uses a very small memory footprint, in fact at 600 megs or so it is smaller then many modern single instruments. The downside is that it doesn't work so well for featured solo instruments as there are just too few samples, usually every third note is sampled with one velocity layer. It becomes really obvious that you are using the same sample over and over again.

The Iowa is almost the reverse. It has only solo instruments, though we can get ensembles through scripting. The sound can be a bit rough, but since I've removed the roughest samples and digitally tuned almost all the samples (the lowest tuba / bass notes confounded my tuners), I think it has some very passable brass and woodwind solo instruments. With the tuning it sits pretty well with any orchestra tuned to 440.

The MSLP Flute and Trombone are very nice solo instruments. They are heavily sampled with many articulations and a very smooth sound. The Pablo Trumpet is also a pretty nice multi-sampled instrument.

The string section is quite well served. The solo violin and cello work well out front and the double bass has a great growl to it. The viola involves using a shell and downloading Philharmonia samples. I would just use the viola included in the Kontakt factory library.

That of course begs the question why not just use the Kontakt factory library (and don't forget the legacy instruments)? For me that is like asking why buy another book or game or dvd. Variety is the spice of life or in this case music. If everyone else is using the Kontakt String Ensemble, Cello and Flute, why not mix it up and use toys other people aren't play with or don't even know exist. Plus in this commercial world of ours, it is kinda fun to mess with the rich folks minds, don't spend money and still get new toys. They haven't made that illegal... yet.


Mattias Westlund did an amazing job putting together the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra for SFZ. While lightly sampled, the whole thing hangs together amazingly well given the wide variety of sources. This is thanks to layering, clever use of IR to place instruments in artificial space and other things I don't understand.

I have Kontakted the orchestra and added Big Bob's WIPs scripts. This should let you use legato, vibrato and breath controllers. The main problem is that with so few samples, you tend to get the 'shotgun' effect on solo instruments and there aren't many, if any, articulations. However for sections and background it works very nicely. Many of the multi instrument patches have a staccato articulation and most strings have pizzicato as well.

"SSO is a free (as in speech, and beer) library released under the Creative Commons Sampling Plus 1.0 license."

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Iowa Orchestra

Thanks to the University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios, we have the Iowa Orchestra with 15 orchestral instruments including 2 string, 5 brass and 8 woodwind instruments. Thanks to  Ensemble Scripts by Jay Bacal, we also have 15 ensembles of between 3 and 7 instruments.

While the Iowa samples have been criticized, they are the only multi-sampled, multi-velocity layer orchestral instrument samples out there for many instruments. With some editing, first by Blackhole12 and then me and some digital tuning, I think they sound quite reasonable. With a few exceptions they are all the basic sustain articulation.

The main negative at this point is that they are quite short with most samples coming in at about 2 seconds. Having tried my hand at looping samples, I'm both unskilled at the art and far too lazy to loop something like 2500 samples. If anyone would like to loop them please do and let me know.

As with the Sonatina the first set of instruments contain Big Bob's WIPs scripts allowing for scripted legato and vibrato, fake round robins and playing with wind controllers. The ensemble set of instruments uses Jay Bacal's script to emulate multiple instruments playing at once.

Public Domain samples by the University of Iowa edited by Blackhole12. Kontakt instruments are placed in the Public Domain. The Ensemble Scripts are by Jay Bacal and the WIPS are by Big Bob with all rights are retained by their respective authors. Thanks to Matt McKay for heavily rewriting the bigcat GUI script.


Aside from our solo quality flute below, we have the woodwinds from the two orchestras above. As we will reiterate when we come to brass, the Iowa is more heavily sampled but too short, while the Sonatina is only sampled one note out of three and in one velocity layer, but has longer samples and is smoother. With rare exception only a basic sustain articulation is available.

The woodwinds are pretty well represented in these two orchestras. The Iowa has the Flute along with its Alto and Bass brothers, the Clarinets: Eb, Bb and Bass, the Oboe and the Bassoon. The Sonatina adds Piccolo, Cor Anglais and Contrabassoon along with Flute, Bassoon, Clarinet and Oboe.

The Iowa scripted ensembles have all woodwind instruments available in groups from 3 to 7, though since it is scripted it is quite the 'real' thing. The Sonatina has groups of Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets and Bassoons. The flutes have a staccato articulation.

So while we aren't going to set the artistic world afire with our woodwinds we have enough between the two orchestras and the flute below to cover all the basics in sustain mode. Or in other words, look for pieces that have flute, or as we shall see, trumpet, trombone, violin or cello solos. The rest will do for brief bursts or as background.

MSLP Flute

We head to Erick Kvist and the MSLP library for a Flute that is a very nice solo instrument. It has about 900 samples. There are vibrato and non-vibrato modes with 3 velocity layers, round robin staccatos and more. All with virtually every note sampled.

MSLP Flute Grbavac

Creative Commons Attribution: Erick Kvist.


There are solo Trumpet and Trombone below, beyond that the Iowa Orchestra you will find above should meet your solo multi-sample brass needs. It contains Trumpet, French Horn, Bass and Tenor Trombone and Tuba. They are generally have two or three velocity layers and roughly every note sampled. What you won't find are articulations beyond basic sustain. The trumpet does have true vibrato sustain and the WIPs scripts add in scripted vibrato and legato. If you want to disable the vibrato or legato, go to the appropriate tab and hit disable.

The Sonatina also has solo brass, but it tends to be one velocity layer and every third note sampled. With this limitation in mind, it does sound quite good. Mattias Westlund did an amazing job getting the brass section (and the orchestra) to sound coherent.

For ensembles you can try either the Iowa which is scripted, but has more notes / velocity layers, or the more natural Sonatina which is more lightly sampled, but does have two velocity layers for some ensembles and has the staccato articulation.

MSLP Trombone

Erick Kvist created the MSLP library with something like 15,000 samples. Among the instruments was this fine Trombone. It has over 600 samples including a nice sustain with either two or three velocity layers and almost every note sampled. The ff layer is kind of extreme so I created a mild sustain and a regular sustain. It also has staccato with 5 round robin and three velocity layers along with gliss, swells and flutter.

I reworked it a bit and added in a newer GUI so hopefully it sounds a touch smoother and looks a touch better.

Creative Commons Attribution: Erick Kvist

Pablo Trumpet

On there is something called the Pablo Project that has both good and bad sounding samples as demonstrations of how to play and how not to play instruments. Well the good sounding Trumpet samples by rcasamajo sound quite good. So I assembled them into a couple Kontakt instruments. The regular version was a powerful, funky top end, while the mild version is more sedate and probably better for an orchestra. There are two or three velocity layers and almost every note sampled, about 80 total.

 I used the Big Bob WIPS scripts, which adds fake round robins, legato and vibrato and if you have a wind controller, you can play the trumpet using it!
Creative Commons Attribution: rcasamajo
Creative Commons Picture by Derek Gleeson.

String Patch

Sometimes you just want to drop a nice String Patch into your song and not worry about the details. This Kontakt instrument using the Sonatina and MSLP strings is for those occasions. It is intended to be a more realistic version of the synth strings patches.

The range is from C1 to C6, but the highest octave is a bit weak as it is basically just Violins. It works well for almost all middle to long notes, but not as well for very quick notes. It is definitely the sustain articulation and not staccato. It is light weight at under 100 megs, but with up to 7 notes at once, it can eat up voices pretty quickly.

Creative Commons Attribution: Mattias Westlund and Erick Kvist.

So we have a fairly good string section with solo Violin, Cello and Double Bass instruments and shells for the Viola and an additional Violin. In the posts above you will find the Iowa and Sonatina Orchestras.

The Iowa does contain a Viola along with a Double Bass, but the Iowa has pretty weak strings. The Viola is passable in a mix, but I wouldn't feature it. Depending on the range I'd go with a bit of an adjustment and use either the Violin or the Cello in the posts below.

The Sonatina has nice sounding strings, but they are pretty lightly sampled. The Violin is actually a reworked lighter version of the ldk1609 below. Sadly it doesn't have that elusive solo Viola or a solo Double Bass. There is a solo Cello, though I think the one below is significantly better. Where the Sonatina shines is in the sections. It has 1st and 2nd Violins along with with Violas, Celli and Basses. While lightly sampled they sound quite good and have staccato and pizzicato along with one or two sustain articulations. The WIPs scripts add in scripted legato.

Karoryfer Meat Bass

Karoryfer sample machine D. Smolken sampled and then re-sampled his Double Bass. You can find both versions here.

The latest is the Karoryfer Meat Bass with over 400 samples of Arco and Pizzicato. The Arco has every third note sampled in five velocity layers with both up and down bowing which alternate as round robins. The Pizzicato is again every third note sampled with four velocity layers and four round robins. There are also some cool percussive noises from C3 to C4 if you use the G#4 key-switch. This version is definitely more polished than the original and sounds quite good in an orchestral setting.

The earlier version is the D. Smolken Double Bass, which was created before the Karoryfer name as best I can tell. It is rougher, but has its own earthy charm. The previous Kontakt version had some problems, so I fixed it up a bit. It has some great cello 'noises' on the # key-switches.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Karoryfer Cello

And now the Cello. Fortunately the exceptional talented sampler and SFZ instrument creator DSmolken and the lovely and skilled cellist Kamila Borowiak have teamed up to give us a great instrument. Actually they have given us two instruments. Mr. Smolken has reworked the cello to include things like vibrato and legato and all the sustain samples are looped for endless play.

or from The Karoryfer site (which has lots of cool instruments)
Soundcloud Demo

Copyright 2016 bigcat instruments and Karoryfer Lecolds. Royalty-free for use in all non-commercial and commercial productions. If you want to distribute these in a different sampler format or as part of a larger sample library, please be kind enough to inform Karoryfer Lecolds.

Creative Commons 3.0 Unported: Credit Karoryfer Lecolds 

Here is the previous version if you want to use the 'Electric' Shell.

The Kontakt version uses the script and shell by Mickaël Ménager.It has all kinds of effects that usually would be used for an electric piano or guitar so you can 'electrify' the cello if you like or just let it be a nice acoustic cello for an orchestra.

Creative Commons 3.0 Unported: Credit Karoryfer Lecolds 

DIY Violin and Viola

Next we come to the Viola along with another Violin and the strange world of licenses and shells. The Philharmonia was kind enough to sample many instruments in their orchestra quite heavily, but they disallow instruments being made for them. So I can't give you the samples, but I can create a Kontakt shell for them.

The shell is pretty nice and tells you which articulation you have selected and highlights the current key-switch in green. There is reasonable consistency, but since I can't physically edit the samples, I have to 'edit' them in Kontakt and try to get the correct volume by adding or subtracting db for each wave. So not nearly as consistent as samples I can normalize and edit.

To create your instrument, first download the Kontakt shells listed below. Then get the samples from the Philharmonia Orchestra, convert them from mp3 to wave and drop the appropriate waves in the samples folder for each instrument. Now you should have a functioning Kontakt instrument.

So why bother? Well a good free Viola is almost impossible to find. This one sounds quite nice with the only negative on it and the Violin being that the samples max out at about a second and a half. Also the Violin has articulations that the ldk1609 doesn't, especially those 1/4 and 1/2 second notes.

The violin has 1000 samples with five to six velocity layers in 1/4 second, 1/2 second, 1 second and 1 1/2 second notes as well as pizzicato. Also glissando, legato, martelle, spiccato, staccato, tremolo, trill, detache, punta, talon, and tenuto phrases.

The viola has 800 samples with five velocity layers in 1/4 second, 1/2 second, 1 second and 1 1/2 second notes as well as pizzicato. Also a few phrases but fewer and more lightly sampled.


DIY Viola

The Philharmonia Orchestra have licensed their samples under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You can use these samples for a Commercial Work. Just give attribution to the Philharmonia Orchestra.

ldk1609 Violin

Lets start things off with the queen of the orchestral instruments, The Violin. In this case the ldk1609 Violin. I edited the samples to make for a more responsive experience and there should be much less latency than in the original versions. Also when you key-switch articulations it will tell you which one you are currently using.

It has Arco (Sustain) and Pizzicato with and without Vibrato along with Temolo. somewhat oddly it has Spiccato but not Staccato. These are roughly 240 samples with every note sampled in one velocity layer. ldk1609 is a professional Violinist and did a really nice job with these samples. The violin can be really tough to sample with any consistency if you aren't highly proficient as a player.

The Big Bob WIPs script is used. This includes a fake round robin effect to avoid the old shotgun sound when you are playing the same note over and over. If you want more consistency with your note sounds turn off this feature. Turn 'Variation Trigger Override' to 'Never'.
If you use the legato tab, you might try the 'Flute' setting and mess around from there. It seemed to work pretty well for the Violin in my little experiments.

Creative Commons Attribution: ldk1609 @


I have far too many blogs, but what is one more among friends.

The idea here is to share a sort of bigcat (and friends) signature series of free digital instruments. Hopefully presenting one or two of the best of each type of instrument for orchestra and band along with a few of the more esoteric instruments. I'm quite curious if there are enough instruments to make a full orchestra or at least to cover each solo instrument in an orchestra. I'm cheating a bit right off the bat as the best available Viola is actually a shell for sound samples you have to download due to license restrictions.

This blog will be about Kontakt instruments only. so its kind of a way to collect a second set of, hopefully, nice instruments to compliment or even improve on the Kontakt factory library. In general I'm planning on making the instruments non-monolith patches with wave files, so you should be able to use the wave files even if you don't have Kontakt.

I would like to thank Matt McKay for reworking my standard GUI into a much nicer and cleaner piece of code with some cool feature like the many reverbs. Thanks as well to Evil Dragon for kindly pointing out the many errors in my initial attempts at Kontakt scripting and offering fix ideas.
Much appreciated is Mickaël Ménager allowing me to use his great script and GUI for my electrified instruments.
Thanks also to Big Bob for his great WIPs scripts which can add so many features to instruments.

Huge thanks to the many folks who have sampled instruments and placed them in the Public Domain or under Creative Commons Attribution licenses. Obviously none of these instruments could have been made without them.

Finally thanks to you for trying out these assorted efforts. I hope you have had some pleasure from them.

Other blogs
bigcat instruments - everything I've created
free instrument lists - all the freebies I could find on the net
best free vst instruments - best VST / SFZ type (non-Kontakt) free instruments