Video: Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive Demo

Why did it take Strymon so long to put out a drive pedal?

Maybe the exacting engineers and designers at the company knew it would have to stand out in a saturated overdrive market that already offers some damn good pedals. Maybe the homework they started doing years ago on vacuum tube circuits just took them this long. Maybe producing world-beating delay, reverb and modulation pedals first was just lower hanging fruit for them.

Our guess is that it's all of the above. The Riverside is here now, and it's exactly what you would imagine a drive pedal from Strymon would be: comprehensive, innovative and addicting. It combines an analog JFET front-end with a continuously optimizing digital back-end to provide a rich, organic feel all over the spectrum, from a touch of dirt to legit, high-gain metal tones.

Because the Strymon Riverside is not a two-in-one pedal like the Flint, for example, it uses the second footswitch as a Favorite button...which essentially makes it another two-in-one. The difference is that the two pedals you get are any two distinct permutations of the settings on this pedal. Go high-gain on the chorus and and dial way back for the verse at the stomp of a switch, without needing another pedal.

Speaking of settings, the knobs look standard enough - Gain and Level, with three EQ knobs of Bass, Middle and Treble (applied after the cascading gain stages). What you can't see is the real-time optimization that happens digitally as you turn the Gain knob. The pedal works to keep your harmonic output in the "sweet spot," according to the manufacturer, no matter what level of gain you dial in.

The High and Low Gain toggle are pretty self explanatory, while the Norm and Mid Push toggle let you alter your EQ map on the fly for different characters.

Maybe it's because we grew up playing Nintendo games with hidden levels and secret codes, but we love the non-obvious secondary functions on Strymon pedals. The Riverside offers a secondary function that turns the Gain knob into a noise-reducer (great for metal players) and the Level knob into a boost (great for solos).

Final Verdict

Of all the covers-the-gamut drive pedals, this may be one of the best out there, especially with the secondary functions and the real time digital optimization. The downside is the price. At $300 it doesn't leave much leftover for other pedals.

If your pedalboard is already mostly a range of overdrives and distortions, this may be the space-saving replacement you've been waiting for.

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