Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive Review

Strymon has become synonymous with high-end digital effects pedals with the builder’s flagship TimeLine, BigSky, and Mobius pedals being pinnacles of delay, reverb, and modulation effects, respectively. But while Strymon have covered most bases with their wide range of stompboxes, many guitarists have been clamoring for the builder to tackle a dirt pedal in some form. The Riverside Multistage Drive is their first such offering, and it’s a take on an amp style overdrive & distortion that’s at once familiar yet quite unlike anything that has come before it.

Damage Control

While releasing an overdrive/distortion unit may appear to be a new frontier for Strymon, it’s important for guitarists to remember that the core team behind Strymon’s numerous pedals previously developed several tube-based overdrive and distortion pedals under the Damage Control moniker before later rolling out the Strymon brand. But this new foray into distortion shouldn’t be considered a return their roots for the crew that’s been around since the Damage Control days. Instead, the Riverside is a pedal that encompasses the history of the team’s work together, harnessing their years of accrued experience and sound design expertise while treading entirely new ground; the result has ushered in a surprisingly bold and unexpected new kind of drive pedal.


Sound Design:

  • Custom cascading multistage distortion topology provides a wide range of tube-inspired drive tones
  • Digitally controlled analog class A JFET input gain stage maximizes headroom while adding up to 20dB of pure analog gain
  • Precision crafted DSP gain stages provide detailed complexity and responsiveness
  • Low gain channel for smooth classic overdrive
  • High gain channel for modern saturated distortion
  • 3-band EQ with independent Bass, Middle and Treble controls
  • Selectable post-analog gain mid-band EQ push
  • Presence switch to tailor the sound for use with all amplifiers from dark to bright
  • Optional variable-threshold noise reduction helps tame noisy guitar pickups

Ins, Outs, Switches:

  • High impedance mono input
  • Mono output
  • Favorite footswitch to save a favorite setting
  • Expression pedal input allows the connection an expression pedal for simultaneous morphing control over multiple parameters (Expression mode), or logarithmic taper for smooth volume control (Volume mode)
  • Boost pedal input allows connection of an external footswitch for up to +6dB of analog boost, or to toggle the Favorite preset on other Strymon pedals (Favorite Out mode)

Audio Quality:

  • Ultra low noise, high performance 24-bit 96kHz A/D and
  • D/A converters provide uncompromising audio quality
  • Premium analog front end and output section
  • Super high performance SHARC DSP in a compact form factor
  • 32-bit floating point processing


  • True Bypass (electromechanical relay switching) or selectable transparent Analog Buffered Bypass
  • Strong and lightweight anodized gold aluminum chassis
  • 9V DC power supply included
  • Power requirements: maximum 9 volts DC center-negative, with a minimum of 250mA of current
  • Dimensions:

    – 4.5″ deep x 4″ wide x 1.75″ tall

    – 11.4 cm deep x 10.2 cm wide x 4.4 cm tall

  • Designed and built in the USA

Sound & Performance:

To simply call the Riverside an overdrive, distortion, or even an “amp-in-a-box” pedal doesn’t do justice to the range of dirt sounds contained within this unassuming little pedal. The pedal’s 3-knob tone section and inclusion of a Presence switch indicate an amp-like style of tonal control which gives the Riverside massive flexibility for sculpting a wide range of overdrive and distortion tones to suit your guitar and amp set-up.

The Riverside excels when used as a more traditional overdrive effect, kicking it on to hit your amp a little harder right in the sweet spot to induce some break-up from the amp while adding some extra grit from the pedal as well. You can also keep your amp completely clean and rev up the Riverside’s Drive so that the pedal does all the heavy lifting. This approach can add all kinds of drive to your tone, from classic rock and blues overdriven sounds to high-gain full stack roar.

What makes the Riverside so enjoyable to play is how well it responds no matter where you have the Drive knob set. This is arguably the pedal’s secret sauce, and Strymon most likely isn’t going to share a white paper detailing how they’ve managed to get such a responsive range of playable sounds out of a drive pedal. Just know that for all the talk from builders in the past about how a particular dirt pedal has a wide range of usable tones, the Strymon Riverside surpasses almost any pedal I’ve come across in this area. Basically, the complex algorithm shifts the response of the pedal through the range of the parameter knobs to offer a varying degree of response depending on where the knobs are set. Every point of adjustable range has been fine-tuned to provide usable sounds. Every setting is a sweet spot. It just depends on what kind of sound you need in a given moment. But the Riverside is musical and inspiring no matter where you have the knobs set.

It’s also commendable how well the pedal responds to your input signal level. You can set the Drive to your preferred max level and cut your guitar’s volume level to reduce the drive from the pedal while maintaining a tonally balanced sound. This is a hallmark of many great pedals and amps, yet the Riverside seems to reinvent the game here in the subtlest of ways. An irony in playing the Riverside is that while I find myself using most pedals in a binary, off/on, “digital” manner, bypassing and engaging them as needed, the Riverside warrants a more analog playability in how it encourages expression from the guitar’s volume knob and the pedal’s Drive parameter. Pull out and expression pedal and “play” the Drive; you’ll see and hear what I mean.

From Low To High

There are 2 primary gain modes in the Riverside: Low & High. Simply put, think of the Low mode as your cleaner, milder drive channel. It’s better suited for general overdrive duties akin to how you’d use a standard lower gain overdrive pedal. It can get pretty gritty when you crank the Drive, yielding mild distortion when cranked. As the Drive knob morphs pedal’s response throughout its entire range, you’ll discover a wide range of usable tones and different applications.

Flipping over to the High setting adds an immediate girth to the sound, making the Riverside sound bigger and fuller. This is where the pedal really seems to take off from a typical overdrive or distortion pedal and ascend to a level of amp-like feel and responsiveness. It’s often difficult not to crank the Drive a bit and riff out with the thick distortion this mode offers. You can tame it and still use it like an overdrive, albeit a drive that’s more present and that sounds “bigger” than many drive pedals. Stack it with an overdriven amp channel for a ripping lead tone or simply use it on its own for adding an extra drive channel to a clean amp. It’s worth noting that the High setting is plenty capable of covering classic rock grit to modern high-gain distortion. With cranked gain you can even scoop the mids for the thrashier metal distortion that retains more note definition and clarity than hairier, muddier noiseboxes.

The Riverside has a built-in noise reduction feature (consult the manual on how to set it to your needs). This is invaluable when using higher gain settings as it’ll help keep your sound tight while maintaining a low noise level when you’re not playing. Kudos to Strymon for squeezing this feature in and for how smoothly it operates once you set it to taste.

Push It!

The Push switch adds a mid EQ “push”. Sounds simple enough, but it’s worth flipping back and forth on various settings to hear how it affects your tone depending on how you have the other parameters set. An easy use for it is to simply apply some extra mid-boost for your overdrive sounds. I also find it rather appealing to activate the Push when using the High gain mode; whether for classic distortion or mid-scooped metal tones, the extra mid presence lets your guitar sound cut through a bit more and adds a bit of extra touch sensitivity. It just adds a little extra bite without any top-end harshness.

There are some other interesting features that round out this exceptional pedal. You can set the Riverside to either true bypass or buffered bypass to accommodate either preference. There’s a Volume Mode which allows the use of an external expression pedal to control the Riverside’s output volume. You can also use an external foot-switch to control a boost up to +6dB. (The Boost and Volume Mode can also be used if the pedal is bypassed when set to buffered bypass.) There’s an onboard Favorite switch for saving a favorite preset to be recalled at will. There’s also a Favorite Output mode which allows you to activate the Favorite setting of another compatible Strymon pedal when pressing the Riverside’s Favorite switch. And of course you can use a Strymon Favorite MiniSwitch to activate/bypass the Favorite setting on the Riverside.

I was pleased that Strymon chose to have the Riverside “remember” its bypass state when last powered on. This is useful for effects switcher based rigs where you’d typically want all of your pedals to automatically enter their activated state when powering up your rig. But this does bring attention to my one major gripe about the pedal. I wish Strymon had implemented the possibility for the EXP jack to accept TRS switch control of the Bypass and Favorite foot-switches, similar to amp-style remote channel switching. Some other noteworthy boutique pedals do this, and it’s extremely convenient when using an effects switcher that has TRS control outs so that you don’t have to waste an effects loop to accommodate the a pedal. The Riverside sounds amazing enough to integrate into such a rig despite this inconvenience, but it’s a persisting annoyance considering a software update could potentially add this useful feature. And of course, it would be nice if Strymon would finally head the call to add MIDI control to their compact pedals, but I’m not gonna give ’em too much heat for that here. The TRS switching is the most essential order of business this pedal needs in a firmware update. With that being said, the Riverside is still deserving of my highest commendation.

The Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive is arguably one of the most versatile and musical “dirt” pedals ever released. If you noticed that I didn’t really talk about the fact that this pedal is a primarily a “digital” distortion pedal (with an analog front end), that’s because frankly, it doesn’t matter. The Riverside sounds incredible and blows away nearly any other pedal you can compare it to for amp-style overdrive and distortion. It may be hard for some guitarists to get that excited for what may seem at first like just another drive pedal, but the Riverside is a modern masterpiece of drive tones.

That concludes our Strymon Riverside review. Thanks for reading.

Gabriel Tanaka

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