Be sure to check out tab-by-mail

What is Tab?

Tab is a typesetter for lute tablature, for renaissance and baroque lutes and theorboes, in French and Italian notation. It runs on many computers but is developed on the linux operating system. Tab is a command line or "dos" program, which does not use the mouse. You use tab in conjunction with a word processor or editor program and a PostScript display/printing program (like Ghostview). You edit a plain text file with special commands to enter the lute tablature, then you run tab to convert that input into PostScript output that you can print or display with the right program. Because I, as a programmer, have not spent my time on a fancy user interface, I have been able to extend the formatting capabilities of my program. There are other tablature programs that you can use to enter music and save in tab format to take advantage of tab's high quality fonts and proportional spacing.

The Legal Stuff:

The program "tab" is copyright by Wayne Cripps, 1995-2006, and is his (my) property exclusively. You may use this software non-commercially without any charge and freely distribute it to others, provided that you acknowledge Wayne Cripps as the owner, tell others where you got this software, and give them a copy of this document. You may not use tab commercially, distribute it commercially, or use any part of it in any commercial software distribution without explicit permission from Wayne Cripps. If you use tab to typeset a book or other material for sale you must send one copy to Wayne, free of all charge, and post paid. Tab is provided "as is," without any warranty, explicit or implied, of any kind!

Where did this information come from?

This document is located on a web site,

What tab runs on

Tab runs on Unix, Linux, Windows, and Mac OSX It can also be used remotely by mail. (Most serious users use tab by mail.) Tab is not a point and click program - rather it is one part of a multi step procedure. You must have other software to use tab to produce output on paper or your screen. Most people need to have a PostScript printer to print the tab output. If you run tab by mail you don't have to worry about setting it up on your machine, and you are assured of always having the latest version.

I personally use and develop tab on linux (fedora core) and Mac OSX.

Printing tablature that someone else has entered

The easiest way to get tablature that someone else has formatted is to go to my web site, and simply click on the PDF or EPS tag for the music you want. This is a lot easier than trying to use Tab yourself! Usually your computer will have no trouble printing the PDF version of the music.

Most people start using tab to print out files that someone else has entered into tab format. Music like this can be found along with the formatted tablature at You can click "tab source" to download it.
I recommend that first time users use tab-by-mail rather than try to install tab themselves.

Creating tablature with tab

First you use your word processor to create a plain ASCII text document with carriage returns in a special format like this:

2 cdc
x d
1 cdc
this typesets something that looks like this:
  |\    |\
  |\    |
  |     |

only a lot nicer!

Then you run tab on this document to produce a printer format file, in either PostScript or dvi format. You then use your printer program - lpr, dvitohplj, gs, dvitops, Drop-PS, etc to send the document to a printer, or use Ghostview or xdvi to view it on your screen. (Note that you must find and install these programs yourself!) Sometimes, if you name the file file.eps, you can import it into a graphics program or word processor, like PageMaker.

Getting the tab program source code via git

You can get the source files from gitHub ..
git clone
in linux and mac command line the command is
git clone git://

  to upload fixes, if you have write permissions
git commit CHANGELOG
git status
git push
(the repository is in the vinnie account's name. If you have the permissions you can add file with "git add", incorporate updates to files with git commit -am “comment", and pushd the updated files back to the server with "git push".)
there is also a repository at Dartmouth - but you probably have to be me to access it.
git clone lute.git
git clone lute
and now there is yet another Dartmouth repo ..
git clone lute-tab

Getting the tab program source code

You can get the source code for tab on the web. The sources that work for both Unix, Linux, and Windows are in the form of a tar file like lute_tab4.3.47.tar. Be sure to use the *bin* command before you *get* the tarfile of the source.

The URL should be

tab on linux and unix

Vincent Damewood wrote instructions for installing tab on unix a long time ago, but it still may be useful. You can also read the next section about Max OSX which is rerally just another unix.

tab on Mac OSX

tab runs on Mac OSX quite well in the unix terminal environment. I use (as of fall, 2006) Preview to display the formatted output, though I used to use MacGhostViewX. Preview comes with recent versions of Mac OSX, and converts PostScript to PDF on the fly. MacGhostViewX refreshes its display when the file is updated. You will need gcc from the developers package to compile tab. see for a lot more detail.

Both MacPorts and Fink include gv to look at the PostScript files.

tab on Windows

Tab can be compiled on windows by using Visual C++. On very rare occasions I may make a version available myself, to people who have the skills to handle unix tarfiles. I recommend, however, that if you do not have the facilities to compile tab on windows yourself you use tab-by-mail.

building tab on windows with Visual Studio 2005 C++.

As of 2008, there is a precompiled version of Tab for windows but you will have to ask for it.

tab by mail

The most productive professional tab users use tab by mail. They don't have to worry about setting it up on their machines and always have the latest version.

README - the definitive list of tab commands

The README file in the web site has all the commands necessary and is generally the definitive source of information if you dont read the source code. The version may be out of date. The up to date version comes with the source code. There is a users manual written by Leonard Williams here! and an Appendix here!

creating your own fonts

It is possible to create your own fonts for tab, if you have access to MetaFont, which is distributed along with TeX. Mathematicians will know all about TeX. It is also possible to change the way tab works, if you are a programmer, as the source is available. I will consider doing modifications for people.
More information about tab fonts


Ghostview is a PostScript viewing and printing utility which is essential for tab users. You can read about it and download it (for free!) from I found it very easy to install on my windows-nt box.


Since I develop tab in my spare time, and I am not charging money for it, I prefer to extend the functionality and appearance of tab. rather than putting my energy into making it easy to install and use. You may find it challenging to learn, compared with other software products which are intended for the mass market, but if you are persistant your efforts will pay off.

if you write with questions

Different computers operate in *very* different ways. If you write to me with questions, *please* tell me what kind of computer you have. PC users tend to assume that everyone else has a pc - this is not true! Some people, like me, don't even know how to run one. The ancient "Tab for DOS" is quite different from tab for Windows, so be sure to tell me if you are running windows.

Tablature in tab format

There is a large collection of music in tab source format in the Tab archives along with the formatted music. I would be happy to put any well formatted music that you have intabulated using Tab in the archives.

Wayne Cripps
October 2 2006

There have been 1204 visitors here since January 12, 1998

I started the "tab" project in the summer of 1991, the same year that I got my first lute.