If you have Rocksmith for PS3 or X-Box, a Realtone guitar cable, and have a PC or Intel-based Mac, you have everything you need to extend your playing from the game into a home studio and guitar effects processing and jamming session, not just for yourself but for friends as well. Want to add vocals? No problem, just plug in that Rockband or Guitar Hero USB microphone and you can record audio too. You have everything to extend your playing from Rocksmith into endless possibilities using your home computer – and it is utterly free. (Compare that to what you have to spend for something like ProTools.)
All you need to do is download a bootable Linux CD, such as AVLinux, boot your computer with it, plug in your guitar using the realtone cable, and run the software on the CD and you can unleash a vast array of guitar audio effects (pedals), as well as easily record yourself (with multiple tracks), add vocal tracks, etc. If you have a MIDI capable drum kit or keyboard (especially with an M-Audio MIDI adapter), you can very likely use them as well.
And the best part: it’s free. There is zero cost for the software as it is based on an Open Source operating system (Linux), and Open Source applications such as Rakarrack, Guitarix, Ardour, Soundgarden and others. AVLinux also comes with commercial software, and previews of other available tools, but everything on the CD is free to use.
Here is how it works:
The realtone guitar interface cable Rocksmith uses is really just a simple USB sound card which is seen as a USB microphone by a computer or console game system. This is actually identical to other 1/4″ to USB adapters such as the Behringer UCG102 Guitar to USB interface. Linux has excellent support for USB audio devices, and the Rocksmith realtone cable uses a chipset which is support by the snd-usb-audio Linux drivers (and for Mac by OS X 10.6). Support is built in to Linux, so you can simply connect the realtone cable to a Linux system and jam away. (However, you can not connect something like the Behringer UCG102 to your PS3 or XBox to use with Rocksmith. Although they perform the same function, the game will only work with the realtone cable. Yep, lame.)
The real magic is not the cable, but Linux. If you have never used Linux, don’t be afraid. If you can download and burn a CD you can get started using Linux. You will actually find Linux itself easy enough to navigate around in, but learning to control the vast number of audio application which are now at your fingertips may take a bit longer. (You can also very likely use Garage Band for OSX, but the wealth of audio tools on AVLinux is an order of magnitude beyond this and is more comparable to ProTools and more.)
The below steps are written assuming you know nothing whatsoever about Linux. If you get stuck you will find there are many online forums where help is available. NOTE: Please see the AVLinux user manual, found on the desktop – it is an excellent guide and will quickly get you started. Also, get help from a computer geek friend – especially if they know anything about Linux. (Make sure to provide the beer.) It might seem daunting at first, given the extent of software available, some of which is very full featured, and complex. However, you should be able to at least get up and running so you can hear your guitar and uses pedal like effects pretty easily. From there you can dive into the more complex tools, like Ardour for recording, etc.
Here is how to do it:
While there are many flavors of Linux other there, and several ways you can do this, I highly recommend downloading the LiveCD version of AVLinux from here.
(For more information on other Linux versions available, see the geek notes at the end on “Other Linux Environments”. Just use AVLinux for now though unless you have reason not to.)
Make sure you download the “live” version, and burn the .iso as an image, and don’t copy the .iso file itself to the blank CD. Then, restart your computer with this CD in it. It should start up and take you to the Linux Desktop. (NOTE: If it does not, you may need to configure you computer to boot to CD first. If you are using a Mac, hold down the alt or ‘c’ key while powering on the system and until after you hear the chime.)
Be patient, it may take several minutes for the desktop to appear.
Now, simply plug in the Realtone audio cable. Next, you must configure the system to use the Realtone cable as the proper input, and the computer as the output. This is done using the Jack audio server, which can be controlled by running qjackctl. There is a little green icon on the system tray at the bottom of the screen which will start qjackctrl.
Configuring Jack is likely going to be one of the hardest parts to set up the first few times. The idea is you are patching together software audio tools, as though you were connecting them to each other using physical audio cables. You can then string together different tools. The first thing you need is to ensure the Realtone input is connected to the system output. The basic JACK configuration should look something like this:
TOP TIP: Click on the > button in Jack next to the input device to see more descriptive names for the inputs and outputs. If you just try to use the drop down menu (hw0, etc.) it is easy to get them wrong. The Realtone cable will be list as a “Rocksmith USB Guitar Adapter” or “Hercules” or “Sony Entertainment”.
Now you can start other audio software and connect those applications to Jack as well. For example, we will now start Guitarix (a guitar effects processing tool) so we can jam with all those nifty effects, and make our own. Start Guitarix from the audio applications menu (Hint: Not all entries are alphabetical, it’s actually at the bottom of the list). The interface, with a couple mono plugins and tuner enabled might look something like this:
TIP: the red and green power lights on the left must each be powered on by clicking it for it to be active in your effects loop.
qjackctl should automatically now see Guitarix as another available application to “plug” into, and the connections should look something like this:
TOP TIP: Many users find the default patch bay display in JACK very confusing. You can also try out Patchage, in the audio application menu, which I find displays the patch connections in a much more intuitive and manageable way. Also see this helpful diagram of how to connect guitarix to JACK at the Guitarix site.
You can now jam away, and explore a huge number of guitar effects. Add more effects from the Options -> Mono Plugins menu. Chain them together to get the exact sound you like.
NO SOUND: Most likely you need to re-examine your JACK configuration. Also it helps to activate the tuner in guitarix (Options -> Tuner), to verify the signal is getting to guitarix. If so, you are very, very close. Check your JACK configuration setting, both in the patch bay and the inputs and outputs under the “settings” tab. Its easy to get something wrong here. Also, make sure to turn up the pre-gain, drive and master gain knobs as needed. (This applies to other applications too: Effects often have power switches that must be clicked on to activate them, and volume levels may need adjusted – things may be working perfectly, but you just need to bump up the gain.)
This is just the beginning. Using the same steps you can now also use other applications. Want more guitar fx? Try Rakarrack – the possible sounds you can create with it are endless. It has pre-configured banks of effects, and you can make your own custom sound. (Again, enure you active the fx power switch (top left) and adjust the volume sliders.)
Here is a screenshot of Rakarrack configured for JACK. This is an amazingly fun guitar fx tool with a stunning array of sounds:
Want to record yourself? Try Ardour – also already installed and available in AVLinux. Plug in a USB microphone (Rockband and Guitar Hero ones work fine), configure it in Jack and you can record vocals in Ardour too. (Ardour has extensive features, and you will want to head over to the website to check out the tutorials.) For keyboards check out Rosegarden and for Drums try Hydrogen.
Record yourself with Ardour:
Running from the LiveCD is a great way to get started, but you most likely will eventually want to install AVLinux either to a USB stick, or to your computer. This will allow you to save changes, and improve performance. The AV Linux control panel on the system tray even includes an option to make a bootable USB stick, as well as many other very useful tools. This attention to providing a very user friendly environment, and the excellent user guide on the desktop are additional reasons why I recommend AVLinux.
Take your playing and skills to the next level using powerful and freely available open source tools. Linux is a fantastic platform for musicians, and the number and quality of tools available is impressive. If you run into trouble, you will likely find places like Linux forums, and forums for tools like AVLinux, Rakarrack, and Guitarix, to be quite helpful. It can get complicated, its true. But if you stick with it you will be well rewarded.
Advanced and Troubleshooting Advice
(Warning Nerd Stuff Coming – you can skip it unless you want more info)
First off – check out the user manual on the desktop (or from the AVLinux site). It has tons of good info, useful terminal commands, etc. Here are some basic tips for common issues:
Start a command shell and run:
$aplay -vv /usr/share/sounds/alsa/Front_Left.wav
If you don’t hear anything, restart the sound server:
$sudo /etc/init.d/alsa-utils restart
Then re-try the speaker test. This must work before JACK or any other applications will.
If it still does not work, make sure your sound card was detected (cat /proc/asound/cards )
Troubleshooting the realtone cable
Prior to plugging in the cable, open a command terminal and run:
$sudo udevadm monitor
Plug in the Realtone cable and see if udev correctly detects it and assign it as an audio device.
Also, ensure it is visible when you run
$sudo lsusb -v
Running for a LiveCD forever is not the way to go. Instead, you can install AVLinux as a virtual machine using VirtualBox. You will also need to VirtualBox USB extensions. Note there is going to be increased latency this way for sure, in fact so far the latency has made it pretty unusable in my tests. You may well need to increase the “Frames/Period” in JACK settings to 1024 or even 2048. I did have trouble with the VM crashing in VirtualBox (4.1.6) running on my OpenSuse 11.4 system with VERR_NO_MEMORY errors, despite having plenty of memory allocated to it. It does seem to work okay when I briefly tested it with VirtualBox on a MacBook Pro, OS X 10.6.8 Audio was working okay – though getting the Realaudio cable recognized by the VM was a bit tricky, even when adding a USB filer for it. All in all, my experience shows that due to latency and timing demands, and overhead of the hypervisor may make this unrealistic except under ideal hardware and conditions. A better option would be running from a USB stick, which should run considerably faster than the LiveCD, or better yet of course actually installing Linux.
Other Linux Environments
You can install any mainstream Linux distribution (OpenSuse, Ubuntu, Fedora, etc.) on your computer, and then install the needed audio applications for the repositories, or build them from source. However, I recommend using the AVLinux LiveCD to start users off without needing to install anything so they can just jam, have fun, and test drive things.
OpenSuse MultiMedia Studio
(LiveCD and Installable)
Based on Suse 11.4, this is both a LiveCD and installable Linux environment. It can also be customized using the OpenSuse Build Service, and built a an .iso, usb, or VirtualBox image, which is very cool. You can add guitarix and rakarrack to the build. I do want to test drive this fully, though it lacks the extensive collection of pre-installed audio specific applications that AVLinux offers.
(Only 2.0 version available as Live CD, newer versions are install only.)
Other LiveCD options include the 64Studio 2.0, but that is based on Debian 4.0, which is very old at this point. While 64Studio is available in newer versions, they are not available in as a LiveCD. If you wish to install a full Linux OS, I would certainly recommend looking in to it.
(Latest is Ubuntu 11.10 base. No LiveCD option)
Developed for a mix of audio, video and graphics arts. Looks pretty good, but not music focused – and there is no LiveCD available.