Ableton vs FL Studio

Ableton vs FL Studio: Which is Best for Guitarists?

One of the most exciting parts of learning to play the guitar is making your songs come to life by recording them. In order to do this, you’re going to need to use DAW software (Digital Audio Workstation), and there are a huge number of them available. 

Two of the most popular DAWs used for guitar recording and production are Ableton and FL Studio. Read on to find out which DAW comes up on top in the Ableton vs. FL Studio face-off. 

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Main Differences Between Ableton vs FL Studio

The main differences between Ableton vs FL Studio are:

  • Ableton features a powerful visual programming language called Max/MSP, which allows you to create your own plugins, whereas FL Studio does not have such a feature.
  • Ableton provides a large number of packs geared towards guitar-based music production, whereas the FL Studio resources are aimed more towards EDM producers.
  • Ableton features a comp mode which makes it easy to edit and merge the best takes of your guitar recording, whereas FL Studio’s comp mode is much more basic. 
  • Ableton includes a variety of guitar-focused audio effect plugins, whereas guitar plugins found within FL Studio must be purchased separately.
  • Ableton has a steep learning curve, whereas FL Studio is easier to get started with.

Comparing the Features of Ableton and FL studio

Ableton

Ableton and FL Studio are both highly popular DAWs within the music industry. However, every DAW is different, providing different features and workflows that suit different types of musicians. 

In order to help you decide on which DAW is best for recording and producing your guitar creations, I’m going to break down the key differences regarding the features of Ableton and FL Studio. 

Instruments, Packs, and Plugins

Both Ableton and FL Studio come with a lot of integrated virtual instruments, packs, and plugins, meaning you can start making music with your guitar immediately instead of having to rely on purchasing external VSTs. 

I think Ableton stands out massively here as it provides a huge 70GB library of professionally recorded sample packs, virtual instruments, and audio effect plugins to help you get started.

FL Studio provides a ton of resources to its users as well, but I have generally found them to be not particularly useful for guitarists. It has far more audio effect plugins than Ableton does (such as Wah and various distortions), but the DAW is let down by focusing heavily on EDM production. 

Recording Modes 

Every DAW facilitates the recording and editing of your electric or acoustic guitar, and this will generally work by recording in a linear arrangement. Both Ableton and FL studio provide an option for achieving this.

In Ableton’s arrangement view, you can record your guitar in this typical linear fashion, allowing you to chop up clips and move them around the timeline. Loop and cue points can be set to begin recording at different points, and overdub options are also available. 

FL Studio provides this exact same setup – there isn’t a huge amount of difference when it comes to linear recording. However, the real difference comes in when considering the loop record mode. 

Both Ableton and FL Studio provide a ‘loop recording’ mode in which you can record your guitar directly into a loop, which can then be added to the linear arrangement mode. You can simply create a loop, hit record, and create individual segments of guitar audio, which will act as the building blocks for your piece.

However, in my opinion, Ableton’s loop record or ‘Session View’ really stands out – it’s designed for experimentation, meaning it is essentially your sandbox for creating ideas. New ideas can be created with rapid workflows, triggered via a MIDI controller to experiment with sequencing, and ultimately migrated over to the arrangement view. 

Whilst FL Studio also allows you to audition loops in the loop mode and move them over to the linear arrangement view; it simply doesn’t have the same experimental workflow the Ableton provides. The whole process feels a lot more static, representing a simple means to create building blocks. 

Ultimately, Ableton’s concept of launching scenes and clips via a MIDI controller makes a world of difference, particularly if you own accompanying hardware such as the Ableton Push. 

Editing

FL Studio

Recording tools are essential elements of a DAW, but let’s be honest – it’s difficult to record a perfect audio file in a single take. This is why editing and comping are important, features that both Ableton and FL Studio provide. 

I prefer the recording and composition style of Ableton over that of FL Studio, but I must say that FL’s internal audio editor is easier to use than that of Ableton. Whilst Ableton certainly provides all the basics that you need for audio file editing; I often find it feels fiddly and clunky. 

It can be quite a frustrating experience sometimes, and I simply don’t find that with FL Studio. There’s no difference in terms of features; it just comes down to the user interface and the ease of use that it provides. 

Whilst this may sound like a downside to Ableton, it doesn’t actually bother me. The main reason for this is that both Ableton and FL Studio facilitate the use of external editing software such as Ocenaudio or Audacity. 

If you want to take audio editing seriously and really perfect your takes, I would highly recommend using this feature. It allows for much more intricate editing than the internal audio editors in both Ableton and FL Studio. 

Comping

Comping is the processing of recording multiple takes, comparing them, and choosing the best bits. It’s a fantastic way to aid your editing process, allowing you to chop takes into sections in order to provide a seamless recording. 

Ableton Live 11 and FL Studio both have comping features to allow you to audition and perfect your acoustic or electric guitar recording takes.

However, I think Ableton’s is significantly better – once you have activated the comping mode, you can record within arrangement mode in a looped fashion in order to stack your takes. Then, you simply select the best bits from each take, ultimately resulting in each take providing a combined perfect take. 

Whilst FL Studio does provide a comping feature; it just doesn’t cut it for me. The reason for this is that there is no intuitive way for you to select the best bits. Sure, you can record multiple takes, review them and pick the best one, but there is no way to actually pick the best bits from each audio file. 

This ultimately means that the take that you choose must be perfect from start to finish, and that’s just not realistic when it comes to recording a lengthy guitar solo. 

Mixing and Mastering

Ableton Live

Once I’ve recorded my guitar parts and weaved them into a complete musical composition, there’s one last thing on my mind – mixing and mastering. This is an essential process if you want to release your music professionally, and both Ableton and FL Studio have the tools to help you with this. 

The actual process of mixing and mastering is excellent with both DAWs. If you choose to use the expensive external mastering plugins that professionals use, you won’t feel much difference between the two DAWs. 

However, it’s always nice to be provided with mixing and mastering tools when you purchase a DAW, and I have to say that FL Studio stands out in this category. The number of plugins that are provided for professional mixing and mastering is astounding; there’s a different tool for just about every part of the process. 

Ableton, on the other hand, is a little bit limited in this regard – there are tons of fantastic audio effects that will aid you within the mixing and mastering process, but it’s low in comparison to FL Studio. However, Ableton does have a secret weapon under its sleeve, which brings me to my next point: Max/MSP. 

Max/MSP

Whilst Ableton may be a little limited in terms of the audio effect plugins that it provides; I will still always prefer this DAW over FL Studio for one reason – Max/MSP. This is an audio programming language that comes included with Live Suite 11, and it is seriously powerful. 

The programming language is high-level, visual, and object-oriented, which essentially means that it is designed to be used by beginners with minimal programming experience. Within this language, you can literally create anything. This could include:  

  • Custom mixing and mastering plugins
  • Synthesizers
  • Bespoke looping tools
  • Algorithmic MIDI generators

I personally use this feature in Ableton more than any other – it means that I can make the DAW do exactly what I want, regardless of whether it was an intended feature. 

It is worth mentioning that FL Studio provides a somewhat similar feature known as Patcher. However, this is a seriously basic programming language in comparison. It is also a high-level language with visual patching properties, but the elements that you can use are very limited. It’s still a nice touch, but it has absolutely nothing on the power of Max/MSP. 

The Price Difference 

FL Studio

Choosing a DAW with the features that work best for you is very important, but at the end of the day, if you’re on a budget, then you may wish to choose the cheaper option. I’ve provided the following table in order to help you compare the prices of licenses for both Ableton and FL Studio. 

Licenses with limitations (such as a lack of bundled plugins) are provided for both DAWs at lower prices, but the full versions are priced the highest. 

  • DAW License Price
  • Ableton Live 11 Intro $93
  • Ableton Live 11 Standard $428
  • Ableton Live 11 Suite $723.00
  • FL Studio Fruity Edition $99.00
  • FL Studio Producer Edition $199.00
  • FL Studio Signature Bundle $299.00
  • FL Studio All Plugins Edition $499.00

Alternative DAWs

Whilst Ableton and FL Studio are both strong options for anyone looking for a DAW for guitar production; it’s important to realize that there are other options out there. I’ve broken down my three favorite alternatives – Reaper, Logic, and Reason.

Reaper

Reaper

When I first became a music student, I had very little money to spend, and I didn’t want this to get in the way of recording songs on my guitar. Thankfully I found Reaper, a DAW that is 100% free to use, forever. It’s an excellent place to start if you’re on a tight budget and provides all of the basics such as recording tools, audio plugins, and VST support. 

However, there are downsides to this software – it doesn’t have any form of internal MIDI instruments, and the user interface is blocky and feels old-fashioned. Regardless, if you simply can’t justify spending money on a DAW, Reaper is a great option!

Logic

Logic Pro

If you’re an Apple Mac user, you might consider using Logic. It’s a very popular DAW that comes complete with a huge array of MIDI instruments, audio effects, and tools for recording guitar compositions. 

I don’t use Macs anymore, but I really miss the audio editing tools within this software. It was extremely effective, and I never considered using an external audio editor as I do in Ableton and FL Studio. 

However, there are a ton of limitations – the software is nowhere near as innovative as Ableton and FL Studio. For example, it lacks some features that I would consider essential, such as a loop mode and an audio programming language.

Reason

Reason 

The reason isn’t as popular as other DAWs mentioned in this guide, and I’m not sure why. It was my first ever DAW, and it is incredibly powerful but does tend to focus on providing features for EDM producers. 

You can absolutely record audio into it, and there is a fantastic rack feature that allows you to route audio between different instruments and effects in a highly intuitive way. However, this won’t be of much use to you if you want to record guitar-based music. 

If you do feel like you would benefit from Reason, you can purchase the features of the software as VSTs to use within Ableton or FL Studio. It’s a unique feature that I haven’t seen in any other DAW. 

FAQs 

Question: Is there a free trial of Ableton?

Answer: Yes – Ableton provides a free trial option, allowing you to test out Ableton Live Suite 11 with all features for 90 days. 

Question: Does FL Studio Include Plugins for Guitar Production?

Answer: FL Studio does have a range of guitar production plugins known as Hardcore, but this must be purchased separately. 

Question: Does FL Studio Have a Comping Feature?

Answer: FL Studio does include a comping feature, but it does not facilitate the easy mixing and matching of the best parts of each take. 

Question: Does Ableton Have a Large Selection of Audio Plugins?

Answer: Whilst Ableton has a lower quantity of audio plugins than FL Studio, it still has all the essentials, and anything missing can be easily designed in Max/MSP. 

Conclusion

Ableton and FL Studio are both excellent DAWs that will provide you with everything you need to create fantastic musical compositions with your guitar. However, Ableton will always come on top in my books. 

It comes with an enormous sample library, the comp mode is extremely useful in preventing you from having to practice a part over and over, and the audio programming language Max/MSP makes it essentially open-source and limitless. 

FL Studio is certainly easier to use when you first start out with it, but in my opinion, having patience with the steep learning curve of Ableton will pay off in the future.

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