Strymon Riverside – a pedal I didn’t buy

Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive Pedal

Reading the specs tells me it has everything I need. Having several other Strymon products, that I really like, almost made me buy the pedal without playing it. Fortunately I decided go check it out and I’m glad I did.

I saw every video available with the Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive, before I went to pick it up. The style/sound is a great alternative to the two other overdrives I have in my board (an Euphoria and the Plexi Drive Deluxe from Wampler), so I was really turned on.

It’s a really well made pedal. Some super cool features. Actually it has everything I’m looking for. There is room in my board for it. I have the bread and yet I didn’t buy … that’s scary!

Here’s why and please share your thoughts on this, maybe I’ve missed something.

The Strymon Riverside

I can store a favorite preset and go from almost totally clean to some really intense overdrive – that’s awesome. The fact that the pedal has a build in noise gate and offers a clean boost, useable with other pedals, is super cool. All in all the Riverside was exactly what I was looking for.

The videos covered a lot of different styles and sounds – showed me the pedals potential, but I was a little worried about the dynamics and feel, so I went to check it out.

The mid boost is probably the best placed mid boost I’ve ever tried. Also the frequencies, the radius, the amount – spot on. The presence switch is perfect to. In addition to this the EQ’s are effective and again right frequencies and curves. No wonder a lot of people already love this one.

The noise gate worked really well, removed all unwanted hum. This was done without annoying my playing or cutting off notes I wanted to sustain.

The amount of overdrive was also responsive to my picking and input level. If I turned down the volume on my guitar, it cleaned up nicely and it also responded to my picking.

When I turned it on, with every knob at “noon” I instantly noticed that the Riverside didn’t color my original sound – I appreciate that. From there I could go anywhere. I could dial in more drive, more bass … more or less of everything – perfect.

So why didn’t I buy it?!

My experience with the Strymon Riverside

But I didn’t feel the drive/saturation as a part of the sound. It’s really hard to explain a sound or the feeling I got from the sound. But I felt that the overdrive was a layer on top of my sound. A layer where it was possible to change the opacity with the gain setting – but it was always a layer “added” to my sound.

I’ve experienced that before. After more than 15 years with all my overdriven sounds coming from the tubes in my Mesa Boogie Triaxis or Mark IV, it’s definitely not the first time I’ve felt that way. I’ve tried pedals that I’ve heard other players use with awesome results. When I’ve tried them I’ve felt like I was missing something. Like it was only 80-90% of “me”.

For many years I didn’t think it would be possible to get that 100% feel from a pedal without tubes. But I must admit I get that from my current setup with pedals. When I tried the Strymon Riverside I first thought it was the amp that was to clean. That I missed some compression from the tubes. But then I added a Plexi Drive to the amp and it felt and sounded “right”. The sound was off cause very different from the Riverside, but I instantly got that 100% feel with the Plexi.

My conclusion

My worries about the feel … that it would feel artificial or “clean” (weird word talking about an overdrive), were unfortunately justified. I was really disappointed when I left the store without the Strymon Riverside. I had the perfect spot for it in my board, and then …

I’m actually willing to give it a try again – but I’m afraid that I will come to the same conclusion one more time.

What’s your experience with the Riverside or other pedals that you haven’t felt comfortable with. Please comment.

Have a wonderful day


29 Replies to “Strymon Riverside – a pedal I didn’t buy”

  1. You conclusion on the Riverside is very similar to mine – and that is based entirely on the demos online. It sounds – for lack of better expression – too artificial to me. When it comes to overdrives, distortions and even Fuzzes, I like extreme gain as much as a subtle break-up, as long as the feeling is right when playing. The response has to be right there. These are the dirt boxes in my current collection: Rockett Holdsworth OD/Boost – Blackstar DistX – BYOC big muff clone – BYOC Rat clone – BYOC Tube screamer MosFet hotrod – BYOC FuzzFace clone – EHX Soul Food – and since talking to you, the Wampler Plexi-Drive deluxe. The Wampler is fantastic. The EHX is ridicolously good for the price – it is 97 % similar to the Klon Centaur that is hard to find. The Blackstar DistX is labelled as a heavy metal pedal, but do not let that fool you. With the gain not even halfway it sings – it has a real tube in it as well as a speaker emulation output for direct recording. Cheers

    1. Sounds like a serious setup you have!! Thnaks for sharing that with me and other readers!
      Concerning the Riverside – I’ve heard some moments online, with some great sounds, but unfortunately also that artificial vibe. And I didn’t get anything from the pedal when I tried it … no matter if I play my Euphoria with almost no gain or my Friedman with tons of gain I really feel I get something from them … that amp/tube feel.
      But let’s see what Strymon comes up with here at NAMM 2017 … my guess is a programable overdrive, the same size as the Timeline – let’s see … and hear how it sounds compared to the Riverside 🙂

      1. Since my last post, I aquired several other pedals. A special mention should go to The Wampler Dual Fusion overdrive (Tom Quayle) wich is just fantastic. It is basically a Euphoria and a Paisley in one box – with a couple of extra tricks. You can use the 2 od’s seperately (handy if you have a switching system), or switch the order on the pedal – ch1 into ch2 or 2 into 1. It’s awesome. Highly recommended.

        1. Thanks you for sharing … it’s so nice to hear about other guitar players experiences. I’ve listened to the DF too, sounds really good!! And the fact yo can switch the order is super cool!!
          All the very best

    2. I’m very happy with the Riverside. It’s permanently on my pedal board when I gig and rehearse. It’s something I can rely on without fail to give me a range of sounds from clean transparent boost to high level overdrive. It’s very tweekable as well. The “artificial” sound referred to in this review has never applied to me. Having said that, I also use a couple of fuzz pedals in my chain if I want to up the ante and put some hairs on my sound. It works for me.

      1. It’s great with this information – it’s great we can share experiences, that’s what I hope for with this blog – so thank you for sharing, and it’s good to hear you are happy with your pedal and setup, super!!

      2. I do the same. I use it more as a (crunchy or overdriven) pre-amp than an overdrive, and have TS, Tumnus, Rat or Thory Fuzz in front of it. I like the options I have and give me the right feel when picking (use one or 2 (stereo) older Blues jrs).

  2. HI, that is a very interesting review of the pedal… I also really love Strymon pedals… So when I heard about that pedal, I couldn’t wait for my local store to receive it, and as soon as it arrived, I jumped on it…. For sure I was the first to buy it here in Montreal, Canada. In my mind, that pedal could be the Swiss-Knife I was looking for, for so many years, and that I could get rid of a couple of other pedals…

    All you say about the qualities of the pedal are true, really…. it is a really great pedal! Super versatile… But then, I also started to have a strange feel about it… Hard to explain… but it’s like if I actually have a lack of feeling with it…. That pedal is actually “perfect”… And I’m starting to think that maybe it is “too” perfect… It feels kind of “flat”… very “normal” and maybe “too straight” or “generic”…???? I don’t know exactly how to say it, and english is my second language, which doesn’t help… 🙂 But I’m questioning that lack of feeling when I play it…. or maybe I’m an eternal unsatisfied gear freak…? Anyways, I’m just not sure about something about it…. yet….

    So my conclusion is that…. it is not “magical”…. And recently I’ve been selling a few Strymon pedals to replace them by Chase Bliss Audio, and those pedals in my opinion are very magical and musical! They really do have a distinctive personality… They are everything but generic! And now, they’re about to release their Brothers pedal, and I’m already freaking out… So I’m wondering if I should sell the Riverside or not…. but for sure I’ll get the Brothers….

    Damn, the never ending story of the pedal disease…


    (I saw you have the Empress Comp…. I adore this pedal!!!!)

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. As you can read, did I feel the exact same way … something is missing. I love my other Strymons, but today I’m glad I ended up buying something different … I bought the Friedman BE-OD – it’s awesome, and together with different overdrives from Wampler I think I got my bag covered … at least for now. Don’t know the CBA you’re mentioning – seems like there’s something new to check out – awesome!
      All the best Soren

  3. Well, I tried the Strymon Riverside as well at a local music store after some customer tried it but did not buy it. Since it was lying around plugged into the amp… I tried it. Initially I was impressed with the sound and it’s various controls and toggle switches which seemed very interactive to get different tone textures… this made me wonder should I purchase it…

    After 10 minutes of trying it out I realised it sounded very clinical… as in the bass was warm enough and the treble was clean without being shrill sounding… the whole spectrum was balanced and very controlled. The gain knob has a safe range of distortion without going dangerously wild. Despite it sounds good (as in you can’t get a bad sound out of it) it felt very tamed for my preference.

    I prefer a distortion/overdrive pedal that can give a good oomph to my playing feel and my sound…. I wished the Riverside had more oomph in the playing feel aspects. Sound wise, it glorious sounding of course.

    I left the pedal there as the previous customer had left it.

    1. Thanks for sharing Eric – and I agree with you – it sounds “correct”, but that’s not “enough” … I also missed something just like you describe. But apart from that do I really like some of the other pedals they do – I actually have three of their products, that I really like!

      1. Tried the same Riverside pedalagain this afternoon as it was just lying about plugged into the amp. This time I flicked the toggle switch for presence at the rear side of the pedal. It basically sets the presence in neutral, minus or plus. Minus will clean up tame the tone further a notch. Neutral gives a balanced tonality to the pedal spectum. Plus will make the pedal slightly more hairy. Despite all these great tonal possibilities to my ears… It still lacks the organic raw playing feel I relished… It has a very dry and precised playing feel to it which some players like.

        1. I feel like you Eric … it has some really nice possibilities and features … but I miss the vibe – it doesn’t feel right to me. The other day I tried some amp-simulation-plug-ins … the sound was “right” – but the feel was very uninspiring.
          Thanks for sharing your experience.
          All the very best

  4. Yup.
    Basically this is a digital pedal emulating the clipping of an analog signal. In my experience (43 years), I have never heard a digital overdrive/distortion pedal or device that sounded any good.
    I’m very surprised that Strymon would even go down this road at all.

    1. I havn’t heard either … have had a few digital multi-effects with some kind of overdrive, and havn’t been using any of them – since I think is so far away from the real deal. I must admit that on a few video-clips on YouTube I have heard sounds pretty close to the real deal, if there have been some A/B like test. BUT the moment they have moved away from the phrase, they have used while comparing, it has IMHO sounded artificial again. And most important, the feel I got when I played thru one wasn’t inspiring at all. I hear tracks other people have done with plugins – and the parts sounds “real” and good … but when I play thru the same plugins I do not get any respons/inspiration from the sound. But that’ just me and my experiences …
      Have a fab day Soren

    1. Oh – that’s a good question. First I will say I haven’t tried it, therefore is it a bit weird to say anything about it. But I haven’t felt any interest in trying it since I, from the demos I’ve heard, get the same feeling of “a layer” on top of the core sound – it’s not easy to describe, but to me there is something artificial, or like I miss a dimension … But the features and the possibilities it offers seems very attractive. That’s my humble opinion, without playing thru it, so I might change view when it happens.
      Have a great day – and thank you for asking, and visiting my blog 🙂

  5. Great review Soren!
    Like you I am a Strymon lover of modulation and the BigSky, Flint, Timeline have been permanent fixtures on my pedal boards for years so when Riverside came out I too got excited. Being in an isolated part of the world I did not have the luxury of trying it first, so forked out the cash and all of a sudden it too was there, a foot click away. Slowly the “perfect layer” thought started to creep up on me and today (before reading your review) I replaced it with other dirt options and suddenly sounded so much more ‘alive’ than before.
    Reading your review cemented that thought, so thank you for eloquently sharing your mind..

    1. Thank you so much Dom, for writing this … it’s good to hear that I’m not “far out” tastewise, when I conclude as i do – thank you.
      I’m glad you visited my blog … internet is very useful not matter how isolated you’re living 🙂
      All the very best

  6. I have a Riverside Drive as my only Drive Pedal and love it with the Boost Switch, so I can go from a Les Paul to a Telecaster on different sessions by using the 10 Db boost on the Tele for the extra filth.

    I don’t really use a tone of drive, and my always on (Favorite Mode) tone is Drive at 9, Level at 4 with Bass, Mids and Treble around noon, Light drive and normal toggle.

    My Second setting that Thumps is Drive all the way down, Level all the way up, Bass and Treble all the way up with the Mids rolled off.
    Then toggle High Gain and Push the Mid Toggle switch down.

    In this setting the tone is like a punch to the gut and you can roll on some gain with some filth.

    I love the tones, of the Riverside Drive it doesn’t color my tone too much and works wonders with the Blue Sky and DIG, pushing a Mesa Boogie DC3.

    To me the Riverside Drive is simple enough to use and I can reliably tweek the parameters while playing live.

    Some Drives sound good at practice level, then looses the ability to cut through when playing live.

    I play at a Church with a Choir, Piano and sometime Steel Pan and Drums, so its about volume control and I haven’t heard a bad tone yet from the Riverside.


    1. Good to hear you’re happy about your pedal, and thank you for sharing how you use it – that’s a fab thing about the internet … that we can share experiences – so thank you 🙂
      All the very berst

  7. My Friends!! I am really impress with the “Riverside”, I pay attention to all the post but please don’t forget something.. Riberside try’s to cover a spectrum of sound not explore before by the digital overdrive before.. I mean if you feel that you can’t reach your musical goal then try the “Sunset” that in my opinion sounds more “analog” (English it’s my second language I hope expres myself in a properly wait)

    1. Thank you Peponio for sharing your thoughts!!
      Your english is fine, and I understand you very well.
      I haven’t tried the Sunset – I did hope the Riverside covered my needs at that moment, but as I wrote I didn’t “connect” with it. But I know a lot of people do – and a pedal that doesn’t work for me might be the best pedal for others … with other guitar, amp or its just a matter of taste 🙂 Glad to hear that it works for you. All the very best Soren

  8. Sorry but i disagree with most of the negative comments on here.I have owned every friggin overdrive/distortion pedal on the planet and this one is a jewel and is fantastic in many ways.No bad sounds whatsoever!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Thanks to all contributors for their experience with the Riverside. I just received mine this evening and will be placing it on my pedalboard tomorrow. I play blues and some older rock. I like vintage tone. I have a Suhr standard with v60mls and an ssh. And an Alt T with thornbuckers and play through a fender tonemaster super reverb. I will post my thoughts after I have had a few days to play with it. Again thanks for posting your experience with it.

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