guitar playing on linux

For a change, a post not related to gedit. During the holidays I decided to dust off my electric guitar and have some fun playing. However when I gave up playing some years ago I sold my amplifier, effects and so on and I just kept my Hamer guitar. Since I just want to have some fun playing from time to time, instead of spending lots of money buying all the equipement I just bought a behringer UCG102, a nice small USB device to connect the guitar to the PC.

The device is detected correctly under linux and works great. However when it comes to the software available on linux the situation is not so great… surely not Plug&Play, especially for normal musicians that do not hack the kernel for a living.

First of all there seems to be a total disconnection between the people doing audio on the “desktop” (Pulseaudio, GStreamer, etc) and the applications for musicians, which seems to be mostly tied to the world of Jack. I understand that playing a dvd and professional digital audio recording have different requirements and design tradeoffs, but still, the user experience as of today is pretty bad and it involves manually launching sound daemons and so on. For instance when I try to run pulseadio and jack at the same time as described here, jack hangs.

At the moment, the working setup I have when I want to play, is to kill pulseadio and run jack with qjackctl manually.

Furthermore Jack on its own has its share of problems: leaving alone the UI of qjackctl (read below for even uglier ui issues), my biggest gripe with jack is that it seems to be able to deal with just one device at a time, so I cannot “route” the sound from the usb device to the pc soundcard/speakers/headphones.

Then we get to the applications. What I need the most is some kind of “guitar amplifier emulator” with effects and so on in order to get a nice set of heavy distorsions to play metal, some screaming overdrive to play rock, some elegant chorus to play fusion etc. Ideally this software would expose an “easy” ui where I just can reorder the effects by drag and drop and turn a few knobs to tune my sound.

What I found and which works pretty well is called rakarrack, which is pretty nice and includes some very good preset sounds… however the UI is… how can I say… maybe it’s easier to describe if I show a picture

Rackarrack Main Window

Rakarrack Main Window

I understand that musicians are creative people and that the usual gray UI is boring for them, but isn’t that a bit too much? Also why use fltk when there are nice, widely available, portable and even fancy toolkits that do not look like 1992 and actually take my dpi into account?

Next kind of app I tried are recorders, so far I gave a quick try to jokosher and ardour. Both look really promising. Unfortunately the first at the moment crashes on my system, but the guys in #jokosher have been really helpful and I’ll shortly try it further and report bugs etc; the latter is tad too complicated for me but it looks really professional and advanced. However even if it uses gtk, it suffers from the we-are-too-cool-to-use-the-default-theme sindrome… at least their built in colors are not as bad as rakarrack :)

I know there are a lot guitarists and musicians in gnome and I have been looking at this things just in the last days. Did I miss something obvious?  Are there any beautiful apps I have not yet seen? What do you use daily? Suggestions are more than welcome