Living Outside The Box Born-Again Techo-Geek Renaissance Man


Linux For Guitarists – Getting Started

I've been messing around with Linux since about 2001, been playing guitar since about 1992. I've done lots of projects with Linux over the years, but the last couple of years I wanted to use Linux as a platform to make music with. I'm not a professional blogger, nor a video expert, but I know a lot about being a geek and being a musician, which is why you're here. I originally wanted to do Youtube videos, but I'm really better at writing. It would be a lot more informal, like hanging with your Geeky tech buddy. But in the end, I just didn't have time to make videos of the quality I'd like. So for now, I'm your Geeky tech pal who's a Linux Guru and just so happens to love playing guitar. Welcome to Linux for Guitarists, Episode 1.

There's been plenty of stuff written about Ardour, and a bunch of other open-source music tools, which is fantastic. But when I started to try to learn more about guitar-specific stuff, specifically performance-oriented software, I discovered there's actually very little out there.

Now, a lot of people are intimidated by Linux, and I understand, but it's not that bad. It gets a bad rap from people that haven't really used it that much. But I'm very comfortable with it, so I feel pretty good about helping you with it. I'm not gonna go into the reasoning behind it*, but let's just say, if you want to use something besides Windows or OSX, for whatever reason, you're in the right place.

I'm basically going to cover the two biggest and most popular free guitar amp simulators, Rakkarakk and Guitarix. I'm going to help you set up Linux on a computer, I'm going to help you get the sound system working, and I'm going to show you how to get the software to do what you want it to do. I'm not technically what I would call an expert at this, but considering how little information is out there, I'm about as much of an expert as you're going to find.

The first thing you need to do is install Linux on your computer. If you've never done that before, there's plenty of resources to show you how to, but from my experience, you want to find a computer that's not too new, and not too old. You want something with dual-core or quad-core, and can take at least 8 Gigs of RAM. If I were going to make a recommendation, I'd have no problems recommending a used or refurbished HP Elitebook. I've used them for years, they're all 100% Linux compatible, they're tough, fast, and pretty much ideal. Anything like a 6930p or newer should work fine. If you want portability, they make a 12" Elitebook with dual-core and 8GB of RAM, very nice and has 8 hours of battery life! You can always make a bootable Linux CD and try it on the computer before you install it to make sure everything works. The whole system runs right off the CD/DVD.

Okay. So what kind of Linux to put on your computer? I would recommend something that's already got the software installed like you want it, something like Ubuntu Studio. It's not the only one, but I've used it for a few years, and it's easy to set up. Guitarix and Rakkarak are already on it, it's already got the low-latency kernel installed, and has a ton of other utilities and effects we're going to use. So go to, download the dvd image of the latest version, and burn the image to a blank dvd. Once that's done, you can put the dvd into any computer and it will boot into Ubuntu Studio without installing anything. You could even use it like that all the time, if you wanted, but it is slower.

Once you've got the Live DVD made, you can pop it in and boot the computer. Sometimes you have to tell the computer to boot from CD instead of the hard drive. Computers are all different, but most of them will have a little "Press Escape for boot menu" or "F2 for setup" or something like that when you first turn it on. Once it boots to Linux, it asks you what language you want. Then it will usually ask you if you want to try Ubuntu, or install it. Won't hurt anything to try it first, so do that, figure out if everything works, and kind of figure out where everything is.

Here's a tip: it's not the same as Windows. It's not trying to be, nor is it ever going to be the same. But just like the first time you used Windows, or OSX, or whatever, you just have to figure out where everything is. Take some time, play with it, surf the web, get used to it. If you're going to use it as a tool, you need to be familiar with it, right? So go wild. When you're comfortable with it, you can go ahead and install it. In most cases you can actually install it side-by-side with Windows, but I don't recommend it unless you only have 1 computer and you absolutely still need Windows. But it is possible.

Here's some resources you can use to learn more about installing Linux. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes! Next time, we'll talk about the Linux sound system, and hardware. By the way, Ubuntu has one of the biggest support communities in the Linux world, so don't be afraid to use it!
Ubuntu Help: Supported Hardware

* My views on Linux, Open Source, Microsoft, and Apple:

We are now in a place where everything is computerized. And to run a computer, you need an operating system. Every system comes with advantages and disadvantages.

If you go with Windows, you get widespread software selection in exchange for high cost, low security, and restrictive EULAs.

With Apple, you get certified hardware/software compatibility and a seamless user experience in exchange for high cost and somewhat limited software selection.

With Linux, you get stability, security, freedom of use, extreme flexibility, and low (zero) cost. In exchange, you give up familiarity, most commercial software, and ease of use.

Since I'm a computer geek, and I'm frugal, I decided to dive into the Linux world back when people were jumping ship from Windows ME. The hurdles I overcame learning how to use Linux were hard earned, over many years. One of the biggest hurdles I had in learning Linux is that there wasn't anybody around to teach me. I had to figure most of it out on my own.

And now, I'm going to use that experience to teach you, guitarists of the world, how to use one of the world's best free operating systems to get the same results as software that costs thousands of dollars (once you add it all up).

Where Geek meets Guitar. Rock on, brothers and sisters.

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

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