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

13 Responses to “guitar playing on linux”

  1. Dave Foster Says:

    Quite old, but Justin Frankel of Nullsoft fame wrote a software fx program:

    it has a linux version, however it’s from 2005, not sure it’s going to work nicely with things in today’s world.

  2. ethana2 Says:

    “However even if it uses gtk, it suffers from the we-are-too-cool-to-use-the-default-theme sindrome…”

    Appearance is everything, for better or for worse. People assume that the elegance with which you code a gui is the elegance with which you code the core of an application. If it looks like crap, people will assume that it is.
    GUI toolkits are the reason I’m trying to find an audacity replacement in the first place.

  3. Christian Says:

    i’ve given up on doing anything guitar related on my linux box, and i searched for decent apps for hours, days maybe weeks…
    the situation is exacly as you describe: jokosher looks nice but could be buggiest software i have ever tried to use.
    ardour is great, but just to complicated for simple things. mainly because of the horrible qjackctl.
    there is audacity, but last time i tried, i had to kill pulseaudio to make it work.
    one app i liked was the hydrogen drum computer, but since pulseaudio was introduced, it’s not usable anymore. because of horrible latency (same with the metronome gtick).
    a while ago i used tuxguitar, but i can’t get it’s midi setup right anymore…
    on the whole a completly hopeless situation. :-(

  4. Mike Says:

    You could give Creox a try for guitar effects; it’s a little old but it’s fairly easy to get to grips with if your needs are simple:

  5. Frank Zimmerman Says:

    “jackrack” and “creox” are two other effects programs that could work for guitar (both are in synaptic). I’ve only played with them once or twice with a microphone, so I can’t say how useful they would be in the real world.

  6. Jesusonic: rack per chitarra da provare « pollycoke :) Says:

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  7. iain Says:

    there’s marlin in gnome svn
    i’ve actually made it more or less work recently. I might even release 1.0 soon

  8. MadsRH Says:

    Great post!
    I have, like Christian (#3) given up on Linux as a music tool.
    The disconnection between Pulseaudio and Jack is spot on, and I really really really hope this area will get some attention in the future.
    I’ve been looking for an open-source guitar amplifier emulator for Linux, but since I’m kind of a newbie or a non-tech guy, there’s simply too many issues for me to get it working properly. Anyway, this post was very useful – thanks :-)


  9. Mark Sanborn Says:

    I agree that is about the worst UI I have ever seen.

    I have a Digitech GNX4 and I would love to do some recording and mixing with Pulseaudio and other apps in Linux but I haven’t found anything that great. It’s only a matter of time.

  10. mex Says:

    I suggest caps ladspa effects:

    with a ladspa rack

  11. KoZo Says:

    You should try Patchage which really simplifies the connections between applications.
    I used to launch
    Jack, start the server.
    Ladspa effects (via JackRack)
    Other optional apps

    Then, you have your apps displayed as boxes in Patchage, and you just have to make the links. I used to do like this:
    Capture (JamLab in my case, the Beringher in yours)
    —> JackRack input
    JackRack output —> Ardour input (be sure to create a new track)
    Ardour output —> playback (your speakers).

    Of course you can skip Ardour if you just want to play.


  12. work and travel Says:

    Is there any information about this subject in other languages? Happy new year for everyone.

  13. Brian Says:

    Eh, maybe someone needs to schedule like a hack week for audio production applications. D: If I could program I’d love to help. >.< I’m still learning the very basics though.

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