Monday, 28 November 2011

Pocket Pod Tux

 Tux created by Larry Ewing lewing@isc.tamu.edu
One of the cheapest and best known options for guitar multi-effects is the Line 6 pocket pod. It's been around for a while and I'm not going to review it, except to say it produces sounds and like any modeller it gives you the option of trying out different tones. What we're interested in here is that it can be tweaked from your computer via USB.

There are reasons you might want to do this other than just geekery. One is that the Pod's four dials are all dual function, but can only be in one position at a time. This means if you set the delay level then try to tweak treble the treble is changed to whatever position the dial was at. Even if you don't find that annoying, using a computer lets you see where all the settings are at once, tweak them independently and also change things that you can't change with just the dials. I also find it handier to set the Pod down and adjust things via the computer than pick it up and fiddle with knobs.

How do you do it? Line6 provide their Vyzex software for Windows and Mac, but nothing for Linux. However things are actually straightforward, because Vyzex runs happily in Wine and, despite using it for slightly unusual ends, the Pocket Pod talks like a Midi device. So in Fedora 16 what you need to do is this:
  1. Install Wine, x86 version (yes, even if you're using 64bit Linux). At the time of writing you need version 1.3.33-1 on Fedora, so install it from the command line like this:
    • su -c 'yum update --enablerepo=updates-testing wine-1.3.33-1.fc16.i686' 
  2. Download the Windows version of the Vyzex software (you'll need to create a Line6 account)
  3. Extract it and then right click on the .exe in the file manager and open it with Wine
  4. You can now start Vyzex from the Applications - Other menu.

I could stop writing now, but some people object to Wine and having to use Windows apps. Also open source options give you scope to do things the original designers didn't foresee. What are the options?

Since the Pocket Pod speaks Midi, Linux Midi programs can talk to it. However it mainly presents a bank of controls, so the big one, Rosegarden which is aimed at sequencing, doesn't really present a useful interface. Two pieces of software do:

JSynthLib is a synthesiser patch editor which supports the Pod 2.0, basically the original version of the Pocket Pod. You can download it and then start it (with the Pod attached first!) by:
  • java -jar JSynthLib-0.20.0.jar
It's not immediately obvious how to get to the controls:
  1. Go to Window - Preferences, check the Midi tab, that Midi is enabled and POD is selected for input and output.
  2. Start a new library (left hand icon, or Library - New Library)
  3. Select Patch - Get then in the new window 'Get' followed by 'Done'. This is the weakest point, it looks like it should be possible to import all the presets at once like the Vyzex software can, but actually you'll only get one preset at a time. If you're worried about overwriting the presets then select the 'Edit buffer' driver when choosing the patch.
  4.  Right click on any patch and click 'Edit', this will bring up all the knobs you can tweak and they'll update the Pod in realtime.
If you're feeling more adventurous you could try JPod which is written specifically for the Pocket Pod. It's not well maintained and only available as source code. Problems include the widgets being very oversized, but it will read the preset bank. For those determined to give it a go:
  • git clone git://jpodeffects.git.sourceforge.net/gitroot/jpodeffects/jpodeffects jpodeffects
  • ant jar
  • java -jar bin/JPod.jar
I'm sure someone with some Java Swing experience could easily improve on it a bit.

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