A lot is going on under the hood while making music on a computer, and so countless things can go wrong. There can be hardware idiosyncrasies, software updates that cause trouble, and any number of other glitches that would be impossible to cover in a single book. The good news is that someone else has probably encountered the same issue, posted it to the Ubutnu Forums, and already got one or more replies. The Ardour manual is and extremely good resource as well:

No sound.

Check that all cables are secure. Check the master fader. And the other volume knobs! Sometimes a JACK connection goes to the wrong place - check that you drew the line from VST to playback.

No/low guitar sound in Rakarrak.

Make sure 'FX On' is checked. Check the volume levels in Rakarrak and on your axe.

Carla won't load a VST.

It can take a minute to add some plugins. Some may load after multiple tries. If it still won't load, try the 32 bit version. Some free plugins also may run slow or crash, after finally loading. At that point, you should cut bait and try another plugin.

What's this scary-looking pop-up error message?

Sometimes you will get a spurious pop-up window. Read it, following the instructions if possible. Otherwise, dismiss it and see if you can't carry on working. Closing a pop-up is a small price to pay for otherwise flawless freeware.

Ardour didn't record.

Was recording enabled and the track armed? Is the track input set? Is the source/playboack volume up?

My exported Ardour song is blank or has a long dead space after the ending.

In the Marker lane (above the tracks) be sure the Start and End markers are positioned where you want the export to begin and end.

A plugin is not appearing under Audio Production/Sound Generators.

Check Media Playback under Ubuntu's launch menu. A very few plugins must be started from the command line - see the README file that came with the plugin.

All else has failed.

Try restarting. If things had been working, re-installing or downgrading Ubuntu Studio may be necessary, but that should be a last resort. If you decide to try this, remember to back up your projects.

Using the command line

When installing a program or troubleshooting in Ubuntu, it is common to run a command or series of commands by hand. You won't need to know what the commands mean, you'll just need to copy-paste them, one at a time (watching out for line breaks), then hit 'Enter'. But...first you need somewhere to type those commands! This is where the Terminal Emulator (know as Xterm on some systems) comes in. In the old days, a text-based "dumb terminal" was connected to a "mainframe" which is where the processing power was. When you open the Terminal window, you will be issuing Linux (UNIX) commands at a prompt - this is called a "command line operation". The prompt is usually the name of your computer or the current directory followed by a '$'. Instructions often include the $ to indicate the prompt, but should remind you to omit it when copy-pasting the command into the command line. To be sure you'll have "write permission", you should be logged in as the administrative user - the one you set up during the installation process. That's really all you need to know for the purposes of troubleshooting, but here are some common commands that might prove helpful, shown in courier font. Notice they are descriptive abbreviations (italcs). Square brackets [] indicated an option.

  • pwd - print working directoy. Shows where you are in the file system.
    ls - list the contents of the current directory
    ls -ls - long listing with more details on the files
    ls -lsa - long listing including all "hidden" files (which start with a '.')
    cd [path] - change directory to my home or a specified path (e.g. '$ cd /usr/local/bin')
    rm [filename] - remove a file (substitute the target for 'filename')
    rmdir [dirname] - remove named directory
    mkdir dirname - make a directory called 'dirname'
    sudo command - run 'command' as super user. You will see this in most instructions.
    chown [user]:[group] [filename] - change ownership of a file to a given user.
    chmod a+rwx [filename] - change "mode", i.e. give read, write, and execute priviledges to all users. Use with caution! This command gives univeral access to your file, making it unsecure. The chmod command takes many different arguments that can set permissions for everyone, just a particular group or users, or just the owner of the file. Also note: '.' is shorthand for "the current directory" and '..' means "the parent directory". '*' is the wildcard symbol - also use this with caution and make sure you understand what a command will do before using it.

It is also possible to edit files on your file system from the Terminal window using a text editor called "vi". I mention this because some help pages may instruct you to use vi. If you're not comfortable with vi, any text editing application will do.

Additional Resources

Linux forums "Our mission is to facilitate discussion, learning, and discovery of music making on the Linux platform." "Unix & Linux Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for users of Linux, FreeBSD and other Un*x-like operating systems." "It's FOSS is an award-winning web-portal that focuses on Open source in general and Linux in particular. While there are several other Linux websites on the internet, It's FOSS specifically focuses on beginners to the Linux world."

Plugin Mania I love quirky VST plugins. One of the all-time champions is HG Fortune, whose left all of his creations on Archive for free use. Here is the "Nearly Forgotten Gems" archive (32 bundled plugins, multiple versions of some):

The following are not included in the bundle, but are worth checking out:

These synthesizers tend towards dark ambiance - some notes to help distinguish some of the HG Fortune plugins from one another appear at the end of this section.

Someone asked for links to the strangest VST plugins on Reddit (WARNING: foul language):

While we're talking about novelty synths, the PAL-9000 is hilarious:

Some of my personal favorites are sampled instruments like Chau Gongs, Redtron (Mellotron M400S strings), Revitar, and OMB1 (bass). A couple of keyboard plugins to check out: MrTramp2 (everyone agrees it really sounds like the keys on Supertramp's "The Logical Song" - definitely adjust the settings to taste). Looking for an old-fashioned pump organ? Try Harmonium. Maybe you are into EDM? Firebird is loaded with contemporary patches and a bright, enticing interface (follwong page, top). All of the above are available on which has a Keywords search (top text menu, third link).


Super Spook Keys (groan) is a great example of the diversity and specialization of plugins. This Theremin by Simple Media has a lot more of the subtlety of the real thing than your typical keyboard Theremin patch. Hear it in action along with its other presets at the following link:


Simple Media's page is worth a visit (paid and free VST instruments, with an emphasis on strings):

Simple Media's plugins have gorgeous, unique graphics.


As promised, some piano resources. The free Piano One is a good example of the trade-offs in sampling versus file size mentioned earlier. It's got shorter, 16 Bit samples in contrast to the 32 Bit notes of it's commercial version, NeoPiano, whose 32 Bit notes that capture the full note decay. Other features of the paid product are omitted. All of this adds up to a noticeable difference in sound quality; it may not sound exactly like the Yamaha C7 concert grand used for its samples, but it's still a serviceable piano that will run on older systems:


I've had some luck with Upright 1 from Versilian Studios. This piano is warmer than some real uprights. It might have a little latency on older systems, the GUI may crash, and it might not pick up the sustain pedal signal - but the 64 Bit sound is quite good, offering a distinctive upright sound.

A slew of different free pianos is available from Big Cat Instruments:

Some of the greatest pianists loved Baldwin pianos. I really like the sampled Baldwin baby grand of Big Cat's City Piano available at the following link with this cool blue skin.


Free Piano from RDGAudio is more recent (2017) and has some layered sounds along with other controls (requires 64 Bit Windows 7). The KVR Audio site has many other free and paid plugins to browse.

Continuous Velocity Piano by recording gear giant TASCAM is highly rated, and represents a clever approach to the size problem, spectral morphing. It runs a single sample through assorted filters to provide a great range of timbre. This is similar to Free Piano, but with far more options. The installer failed to run for me with an error message saying it requires Windows XP Service Pack 2. Maybe try running the standalone version. Once installed, there are some additional steps to get it to make any sound. Open the edit window and note the progress bar at bottom right - that shows the sample library is loading. Note - the dll file will load in Carla, but it will fail to load the sample library if you haven't run the installer. Make sure either Out or 'FX 1,2' is selected, and the leftmost dropdown should show CVPiano normal. You may need to "click to load" the first channel, then select a library from the dropdown. The CVPiano is a 7'4" KAWAI grand.

I hope this illustrates that results may vary widely when it comes to plugins in general and pianos in particular depending on your system and the instrument itself. The good news is there are many more available than covered in this short overview.

Still more plugins!

Review of HG Fortune Snythesizers

Many synthesizers try to be all things to all people. And many VST plugins are emulators or "romplers" (sample players) of "vintage" synths. While it's amazing that every pre-existing type of synthesis is represented in one or another virtual instrument, often for free, after a point, there is some inevitable overlap. Even the GUIs generally follow a familiar hardware paradigm however artfully (or confusingly) masked by a GUI. By creating a suite of more narrowly-purposed plugins, no two of which look or sound alike, H G Fortune's instruments stand apart from the crowd. Unusual control interfaces that could not even exist in the physical world, randomizing buttons and ways to rapidly modify a sound all combine to encourage us to think outside the box.

By the time he passed away in 2014, he left behind an overwhelming 40 plugins. Here I review 16 of them, with an eye towards discovering just what each synth is "about". In many cases, there were two versions of the same synthesizer, which means this review covers more than it appears to (although the revamped version of a given synth may in fact be almost unrecognizable from its progenitor - feel free to make the comparisons yourself). While there is some redundancy, it is the case that these plugins constitute a suite serving distinct functions.


Numinous ambient presets. The manual notes that dozens of "waveforms" are used for this synth, and it appears these are soundfonts, with an almost game-like GUI featuring three balls that you click and drag to alter the sound (or knob twist if you prefer). The presets are highly similar to one another - don't come here looking for lead synth sounds or anything percussive. HGF synths encourage play in the purest sense of the word, and the toy-like interface is a good example of this. Knowing what's to come, instruments that also have soft ambient sounds but are somewhat more versatile, I decided not to keep this one unzipped as redundant. That said, there were a handful of patches that got me started down the path of composing. HGF sounds are so rich that often a few notes that would sound uninteresting on, say, a piano, take on significance and could easily form a compositional starting point.


Interface looks like a traditional keyboard and panel synthesizer, and the sounds have plenty of analog punch allowing for strong lead and bass patches missing from most HGF concoctions. But you can find that with many other virtual synths. What sets Alphatron apart is an onboard sequencer. If the unusual control layout of the sequencer boggles you, fear not - call up any patch and hit "start" - that's right, the presets have built-in sequences, many of which are great for quick inspiration. Recommended.


This "SciFi Sounds Lab" is exactly that. Use it if you are making a science fiction movie. It's all here “ computer sounds, UFOs, spooky organs, theramin sounds, an more modern effects with names harkening Blade Runner, Jean Michel Jarre, and more. Very much a SFX generator, and the presets are wonderful even with no knob twisting. The glowing blue and orange interface looks like a mad scientist's lab video game. Because it is not very musical, I decided to uninstall and leave it zipped.

Anvilla Pro

The H G Fortune paradigm of the ability to mix and match - then tweak - two canned waveforms with a twist. A handful of "Lazy" buttons will alter any patch by doing the knob twisting for you. A quick tour of these settings with a plain vanilla (possible origin of "Anvilla?") patch shows that this paradigm is a clever way to get infinite never-before-heard sounds, as touted for all but the most preset-oriented synths, but sounds with some depth owing to effects and the waveforms themselves. Changing any one of the two source sounds has an even more profound effect on the overall layered sound, as might be expected. This is like cooking by matching flavors - lime and coconut, peanut butter and chocolate, etc.

The results are still often more akin to sound effects, and less "musical" in the sense that they do not lend themselves to playing a chord or a melodic line - many of the presets are not intended for those purposes. The few available lead sounds are uninspiring; likewise some of the organ sounds are perhaps serviceable, but I would first call up a typical tonewheel patch easily found elsewhere. Pads are good on this synth, but otherwise, it seems to be a bit of a pastiche of what you get from other HGF instruments, with the balance tipped in a brighter, happier direction than some of the darker, colder synths to be reviewed downstream. As with all HGF synths reviewed so far, there are some gems amongst these presets. One other fun feature is the back panel skin itself has ten presets. The default silver can be changed to a smoky gray, blue, deep red (which does not look very good behind the lighter blue buttons), sky (my favorite after the default) and some grainy galaxy and nebula images that don't work very well. Otherwise, the GUI is a plain panel of knobs with labels. This would be a good one to call up for inspiration, but probably not needed at my fingertips.

Arracis Gold

One of the first HGF synths I checked out, I had to give it a quick re-trial. Presets are almost exclusively one of two things - pads or sequences, the latter consisting mainly of pulsing sounds rather than a handful of looping notes. This may appear limited, but this is one of the HGF instruments where "what it does" matches the evocative name. Lots of shimmering sounds, many featuring two-note harmonies, bring to mind a mythical version of ancient Egypt (a quick search shows only a possible Dune reference, with a spelling difference). The distinctive gold interface helps set Arracis apart. For me, this one's still a keeper.

Alien Space Weaver (ASW)

Okay, I'll just quote the introduction to the manual and move on: Alien Space Weaver is a very exceptional synth as it is especially made for spacey or dark athmospheric backgrounds and FX sounds. One oscillator contains 75 very special samples i.e. fairly long ones being created from various images providing very spacey sounds from the start already. Thus play it slowly and let the sounds evolve. It's also been called the Eeriator...

We're in very familiar territory here. This really is a great atmospheric synth, and one of the larger downloads (probably owing to those fancy waveforms).


This one did not load for some reason. From the manual:

  • Atonoise 2 is a widely enhanced version of prior Atonoise and is basically built around the modified Mystify processors of the Avatar ST VSTi Synth. Thus it can mangle up sounds to a great extend beyond recognition. It can be used on virtually any kind of sounds like vocals, drum loops, tracks and is even suited for deep sample processing if very few til no modulation is involved. For a more easy access and to give you some ideas of the capabilities a small set of internal samples (including vocals, drumloops & track excerpts) is used for the internal preset bank.


More lush, cinematic atmospheres that "play themselves". Another interface with tons of knobs - four oscillaors. I should say a word about the patch names – they are wonderfully inventive in all HGF VST instruments, sometimes coined words. Lots of "space" this and "galaxy" that, in keeping with the sounds. Panning and delay are a big part of these soundscapes. One Avatar patch is called "Good For Intros" - that says it all. Some of these presets are like little movies unto themselves, one was called something like "Scene Three For Alien Movie". Herein lies a small problem - the names can almost dictate how the sounds might be used, just as the sounds themselves are so complex, often with pitch shifting, that they are not what we normally think of as "musical". This VST comes with a handy virtual keyboard, a feature that seems to have been added on to several HGF pro offerings at some point.


Where several of the above synths are weak on "musicality", Laserblade has sounds labeled as bass, synth, lead, and pad - while ranging in quality from interesting to cheesy, they certainly could be used to play a melody, bass line, or hold down chords. One feature that stands out is a "metalize" section. I'm not sure what this does, but some of the presets have a metallic timbre, and the GUI itself appears to be made of polished meta. As I mentioned, it's easy to find demo tracks of this synthesizer and many of the other HGF instruments. Lot of sci-fi film references in patch names, although sounds do not necessarily correspond.

(Z) Percumat

From the manual:

  • "This is a versatile Rhythm machine for backing drums percussion so definitively not an 808 or 909 type thingie. It features 6 instrument parts / slots to choose from 512 inbuilt drum & percussions sounds. There are two step sequencers one for setting up the beat steps in groups of 4 x 8 steps (or 4 x half a bar) labeled A1, A2, B1 & B2, while the 2nd sequencers on the left allows you to control a sequence of the 8 step beat groups in 16 steps. Thus it is easy to get variations without having to program complete 16 step bars. In addition to that there is an Auto Track Mute feature for tracks 4, 5 and 6 to have one or two tracks muted for a certain range." Plenty of nice presets to get you going fast, includes world beat, a few alternate time sigs, etc.


Gray GUI with art deco lettering. Three oscillators, High- and Low-pass filters, three LFO, sample and hold, delay, VCA mix section. Familiar ability to layer two soundfonts at once. Lot of patches named after planets. This may have been "proto"type for some of the space ambient synths to come later.


Maybe I am missing something with Shuniji pro, but it seems like more of the same. A few sounds are vaguely eastern-sounding, and this comes with a bar-graph supposedly for editing waveforms. Sounds tend to be muted. Another blue and gray GUI. I give it a "meh" and will not keep it installed.

Silver Orbit

Pretty typical HGF, another gray panel, this time with a ball interface in the Gui that can be animated. Primarily what I would call "goofy" sounds, unlike the darker long delay sound of similar synths. I don't dislike any of these synths, but this is one of my least favorite thus far. If someone had only this VST, they would probably get frustrated soon.

STS-26 Protoplasm

This was one of the first HGF VSTs I tried out, and was curious to see if it held up as "best of breed" for space ambients. From the picture of the galaxy on the "dashboard" to the four waveforms, this really is the luxury model. There are some credible lead sounds, but again pads and backgrounds are the strength of this synth. The STS strings patch rivals any synth string patch on any keyboard I can think of and is worth keeping this VST in itself. Many of the presets actually play little melodic motifs, again encouraging a different approach to composing, one of collaborating with the patch designer, effectively. And why not? If you don't like the chosen notes, it should be simple to mute that oscillator. If there was only one ambient HGF synth, I think I would still chose STS-26.


Two versions of Swamp are great examples of idosyncratic VSTs - ambient, but darker and "swampier" than the other offerings. Electronic frogs and cricket sounds inhabit this voyage into a creepy otherworld. I've used this on a full project because it's like nothing else out there. Recommended to check out especially if you like 'em strange.


Just when it appeared Mr. Fortune had nothing else up his sleeve, along comes this amazing electronica looper. If, like me, you are not very good at concocting beats, and at least occasionally like the idea of "press play and off to the races", this is for you. In fact, the synth has "play" activated as soon as you plug it into your rack. These segments are often longer than the memory limited two measures of old school drum machine "rhythm patterns" and the sounds go way beyond kick, snare, tinny hi hat, and toms. In fact, so much is going on, that these might sound like completed songs in themselves on first hearing. I did not read the manual, and the front panel does not have anything that looks like a step sequencer, so it's not clear if this is more than a loop library. Either way, this synth is, to my mind, distinct from the others in that it is more firmly in a subgenre (electronica/dance) and addresses the rhythm rather than pad backgrounds. Great to have in the arsenal, even if you're not a DJ.

(Z) Plutonia

Leads, leads, leads. This instrument has a smaller front panel and fills the void of lead patches from the HGF fleet of plugins, while still offering some breathtaking pads and wiggy special effect sounds. But let's be honest about highly complex sounds that have to be "held out" to even hear everything they do. The more bizarre they are, the more rare the situation where anyone will ever call them up. If you are writing a tuneful piece of music, atmospheric pads alone just won't cut it. The lead sounds here are on par with U-He's free offerings such as Zebralette, and things like warped, delay-rich bells are also quite similar in quality and approach. Many HGF bass sounds strike me as too busy or fuzzy to be functional, but some of the bass sounds on Plutonia are more punchy. Plutonia is not only a welcome addition to round out the HGF collection - it's lead presets have enough of their own character to compliment others in your library. Another keeper.


Which ones should you install? That depends what you want to do. These are all good, but I find some more inspiring than others. Why not play around with, say, Altair, even if you ultimately uninstall it? I hope this was a helpful overview of the synths the late Gunther Fortune most generously made freely available as his legacy to musicians everywhere. To audition them, you can find patch demos on YouTube and whole recordings at the Archive link for these instruments.

UbuntuStudio/AudioHandbook/Appendix (last edited 2019-09-09 04:15:24 by preppert)