An ode to Strymon

laxu

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Strymon sometimes gets described as "really expensive", "sounds digital", "what the rich worship guitarists play" etc but what it really should be described as is "the right mix of top tier sound and easy operation." To me these pedals just sound great, no ifs or buts.

The Riverside is my favorite drive pedal with a vast variety of sounds just based on how you set its knobs and switches, the Compadre is a really easy compressor and boost, while Zelzah, Nightsky and Volante are top tier in their own categories. It's difficult to get a bad sound out of the Flint. I only sold the Flint V1 because of lack of MIDI since it had many sounds in it that would have been nice to recall at the press of a button. If I were to build a simple, compact pedalboard, it would be something like Compadre -> Riverside -> El Capistan/Dig -> Flint.

What Strymon does right is taking something complex and making it fun to work with. Strymon really seems to take the time to figure out how to make their pedals work in a way that is intuitive - having just the right amount of controls to perform the things you need most.

Take the Zelzah. Another company might have gone "well here's a phaser for you" but Strymon went above and beyond by thinking "hey, what if you could blend between a phaser, flanger or chorus?" Suddenly this expensive phaser becomes a multi-modulation playground capable of the afore-mentioned but also vibrato and autowah on its 4-stage side.

I've learned so much about building reverbs with the Nightsky where you don't think in terms of "this is a plate, this is a room reverb" but "what should the pitch of this reverb be and how should it move?" It goes from selecting a pre-built sound and tweaking it, to building it yourself and saving in a preset for later use. This can be too much for many people, but I think it's a great alternative approach to more complex reverb sounds and certainly avoids the "there's these gimmick options I never use" guilt from not using that ring modulated reverse reverb setting or whatever.

If we look at the Strymon Volante, it makes multitap delays so easy. You press the buttons in the center and set the knobs to where you like and that's about it. Compare this to Fractal where getting what you want out of its Multitap delay block is much more complex when you have individual time, feedback etc controls for every delay tap, adding modulation gives you multiple full blown LFOs instead of a "wear" knob etc. While on paper the Fractal is much more capable, in practice it's often just way too much and you instead rely on its (very good) preset sounds with minimal tweaks to get things you like.

A full Strymon pedalboard costs a lot of money compared to buying a great modeler and I don't feel mine sounds better than what I get on my Axe-Fx 3. But just having that curated user experience on each pedal makes playing around with sounds so much more fun. Modelers often focus on pre-built sounds for immediate switching in live use, but what I am looking for is more like a mad scientist laboratory probably closer to working a modular synth.

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Strymon does MIDI in a friendly way. As an experiment I tried setting up a Stream Deck+ to have MIDI controls for my Strymon pedals by hooking the SD to my computer and then connecting the computer via USB to the Strymon Conduit hub. With Strymon's 2-way MIDI I/O I was able to have the Stream Deck dials control parameters but also have their value reflected back when I switched presets or turned the pedal's knobs. Then turning the SD dial encoder would change the current value instead of jumping to something else. This is something that all multifx manufacturers could learn from by providing better support and behavior for 3rd party integration and MIDI mapping.

Where Strymon does fail is secondary functions. There's a good amount of stuff buried under powerup modes or holding a particular switch. With no labels printed on the front, if you don't work with these regularly you have to bust open the manual. I would prefer an Eventide style "dim labels printed under the knobs and a button to toggle between primary/secondary functions" behavior for this. Thankfully most of the secondary functions are not needed regularly, the only thing I miss is a dedicated pre-delay knob on my Nightsky as "hold this tiny button and turn reverb knob" does suck.

Likewise compromises are made in presets, as on many other preset-capable pedals. While you can save and recall a whopping 300 presets on Strymons, with no displays or LEDs for this it's hard to tell what preset is in use and typical for digital pedals, you have to twiddle the knobs to see how the preset is configured by one of the LEDs turning green when you hit the stored value. I use only like 3-4 presets per pedal, more than that on the Volante and Nightsky because it's easier to track them thanks to the onboard indicators. Many of the pedals don't have a built in favorite switch and I wish you could enable presets by holding a button or cycle them by hitting both buttons or something. Some form of outboard control is recommended, whether it's a simple favorite switch (which you can build yourself) or something more complex. At least there are multiple options.

Strymon has said in a (rather poor) Reddit /r/guitarpedals Ask Me Anything thread that they will release a new version of their Nixie software editor in early 2023 that will be compatible with all their pedals. It's been a long time coming. I think that will make preset management a far more palatable affair but I am also hoping that it might be a good "control hub" for the pedals themselves, sort of like using Axe-Edit on Fractal. That workflow has its own value, especially for using in a recording context.
 
I just recently got into Strymon the past couple of months. In the past I never felt I really needed them when I had my helix and other things and boy was I wrong. Love my helix stuff but it's definitely different compared to strymon stuff! Still, both are usable in any application! And I still love the idea of having single pedals to mess with when creating something that's in my head! Also it looks cool with bunch of stuff all over the place haha.

I have mobius, timeline, volante, nightsky, bigsky.

I don't feel I need the other pedals they offer though. I feel I get enough "strymon" from these 5 that can cover everything.
 
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Couldn’t agree more. Strymon make some awesome pedals. (Never bought a bad one from them, which in and of itself makes them worth the premium) I’ve owned the Compadre, Riverside, Deco, Dig, Blue Sky, and Big Sky and they were all awesome. The only one that left me a little lacking was the Blue Sky and that was just because I really wanted a more exhaustive reverb pedal and was being a cheap ass and bought the Blue Sky, which I promptly returned and just bought the Big Sky. (Blue Sky is absolutely good btw, just limited in scope, and I think the V2 looks like a big improvement on that)

What Strymon really nails is “good tones with the knobs anywhere”. They use a good bit of the “what is the player trying to achieve with the knobs set here” approach and program that to be useful. So the pedals are extremely deep if you want to deep dive the controls, but are dead simple to dial in something useful if you just want to get a tone and go. That’s no easy thing to do, but all the pedals I’ve had by them fall into that category. Extremely well thought controls.

Dig is my favorite digital Delay pedal. GOAT. The Deco has my favorite chorus/flanger. (I want to try the V2 with tone knob, which might make the Tape Saturation more useful). I’m not a fan of pedal distortion (prefer amp distortion with an Od) but the Riverside for me was the best pure distortion pedal I’ve tried. That pedal does everything from breakup, mid gain, to uber high gain. If I had to lean on pedal for all my gain tones, that would be it.
 
Couldn’t agree more. Strymon make some awesome pedals. (Never bought a bad one from them, which in and of itself makes them worth the premium) I’ve owned the Compadre, Riverside, Deco, Dig, Blue Sky, and Big Sky and they were all awesome. The only one that left me a little lacking was the Blue Sky and that was just because I really wanted a more exhaustive reverb pedal and was being a cheap ass and bought the Blue Sky, which I promptly returned and just bought the Big Sky. (Blue Sky is absolutely good btw, just limited in scope, and I think the V2 looks like a big improvement on that)

What Strymon really nails is “good tones with the knobs anywhere”. They use a good bit of the “what is the player trying to achieve with the knobs set here” approach and program that to be useful. So the pedals are extremely deep if you want to deep dive the controls, but are dead simple to dial in something useful if you just want to get a tone and go. That’s no easy thing to do, but all the pedals I’ve had by them fall into that category. Extremely well thought controls.

Dig is my favorite digital Delay pedal. GOAT. The Deco has my favorite chorus/flanger. (I want to try the V2 with tone knob, which might make the Tape Saturation more useful). I’m not a fan of pedal distortion (prefer amp distortion with an Od) but the Riverside for me was the best pure distortion pedal I’ve tried. That pedal does everything from breakup, mid gain, to uber high gain. If I had to lean on pedal for all my gain tones, that would be it.
I agree with all of that and a great point about the "good tones anywhere". I think only the more complex pedals let you venture into bad tone territory. Or maybe that's more a question of tones so odd that someone might find a use for them on their new horror movie soundtrack. Like the Zelzah can get really seasick sounding with the wrong (right?) settings and the Nightsky is downright scary with some combination of LFO controlled pitch shifting etc.

The BlueSky V2 seems closer to a "Nightsky lite" to me with clearly a good bit of inspiration drawn from there with the way the shimmer works for example. I still feel the Flint is the best small reverb Strymon does because it is just meat and potatoes reverb with an equally good tremolo thrown in.

I was comparing the Riverside to my BluGuitar Amp 1 Mercury Edition overdrive channels the other day and the Riverside into the BluGuitar's Fender based clean channel was no slouch. It could get tones of similar caliber to the OD chanels, but the voicing is just different. Less sizzle, EQ goes into different places. It's a cool pedal that has unfortunately pretty bad demo videos online. Like other Strymons there's a lot of settings that work whereas many analog drive pedals have a narrow sweet spot for settings.

I still haven't figured out where a Deco would fit in my rig. I've tried some tape saturation stuff on Helix and Fractal but haven't really gelled with it. I have read several people say they like the Deco best when it's part of a very simple signal chain with only a couple of pedals, letting the Deco work as a drive/chorus/flanger etc.
 
Strymon wasn’t cool at all, until I started buying them. Now they’re amazing. :p

Seriously: Iridium v.2 with a good rodded Marshall, a Boogie, and something great clean, and a loop por favor
I think a "Strymon Iridium Boutique Edition" would be cool. Dumble, Mesa Mark/Recto and Friedman/Bogner/Soldano or something.

For me the low points of the Iridium are:
  • Headphone out. Maybe I am asking too much from it as it doesn't officially support high impedance headphones, but running it into a Fractal FM3 for headhone use sounded massively better.
  • Lack of an fx loop so you have to put everything before the amp if you use headphones. Or buy a separate headphone amp.
  • I don't love its amp models when they are overdriven harder. Edge of breakup is fine.
  • Switching the cab sim on/off is annoyingly complicated as a powerup option and should be a live edit (hold a footswitch while in use, turn a knob) feature. Sure you can use the NULL IR approach but that sacrifices a cab sim slot.
I think it's a fine pedal but works better as a pedal platform. Riverside -> Iridium sounded pretty great.

I feel Strymon has not quite nailed the amp modeling yet. To me the sound is less complex than say Fractal but still sounds pretty good and above all they have designed it to take pedals well. I feel like a lot of comparisons to say Universal Audio totally miss this part and they do stuff like point all knobs at noon which is not going to sound particularly interesting.

If they were ever to do a V2 of it, I would also prefer stock IRs from a single vendor rather than all over the place. York Audio would be a fantastic candidate.
 
I agree with all of that and a great point about the "good tones anywhere". I think only the more complex pedals let you venture into bad tone territory.

Agreed. On one of the official demos of the Riverside with Pete, I can’t remember what mode and part of the EQ stack he was tweaking but he said something to the effect “we tried to interpret what the user is trying to do with this type of setting, and dialed in the tone as such”. I’m paraphrasing, but it immeadiately made sense to me because virtually all of their single purpose pedals I’ve used are just one big sweet after the other. On the Dig, im a big fan of the golden ratio, I set it there and basically regardless of the three digital types I’d pick or where I put any of the other controls it just sounded good. (So much so I almost underutilized it because it’s so set-and-forget) That’s sort of the brilliance of Strymon, endlessly deep pedals, that are almost impossible to dial wrong.

Big boxes I agree are a little different. You can definitely go too far into unusable territories but you really have to go out of your way. (Haven’t tried the Night Sky though, out of parameter paranoia :ROFLMAO:)

I still haven't figured out where a Deco would fit in my rig. I've tried some tape saturation stuff on Helix and Fractal but haven't really gelled with it. I have read several people say they like the Deco best when it's part of a very simple signal chain with only a couple of pedals, letting the Deco work as a drive/chorus/flanger etc.

I really need to try the V2, which the tone knob addition might radically improve the usefulness of the Tape Saturation side of the pedal. (It was dark on V1)

Its all a matter of personal taste but I found the chorus and flanger to be absolutely fantastic. My favorite in the pedal format. :chef

I’d just approach it as a chorus/flanger pedal that also does slapback, and has some tape drive. If the addition of the cassette mode and tone control improves the Tape Sat side it could move it to a new level of awesomeness.
 
(Haven’t tried the Night Sky though, out of parameter paranoia :ROFLMAO:)
You wouldn't be wrong there. It easily gets into same kind of issues you might have on an Axe-Fx. "What if even better sound is lurking just a few knob tweaks away" rabbit holes. Scratching your head trying to figure out how to make the most of the modulation. It also gets enticing to throw everything the box can do at a single preset in a "you know what, my reverb does need just a hint of +5th interval on the reverb repeats" way. You have to deliberately go "nah, this preset is meant to be just a meat and potatoes reverb, you already did 5 others that sound like the soundtrack to a Christopher Nolan movie!"

Haven't found much use for the step sequencer feature but it's probably more popular with synth users. I need to hook up my Hydrasynth Explorer to my pedalboard one of these days.
 
My view on them is basically the same as the OP. But the little of them I’ve tried I realized quickly, for my own sanity, the small boxes is where the magic is. Not only in their ease of use but also the curated form of available sounds.

I think el’cap deserves the mention regarding this.

Heck… an iridium, el’cap and blue sky would basically be the ultimate “plug n play” solution of curated good sounds while still being able to quickly change between a few distinct sounds.

While writing this… my gas is set loose so I’ll stop now… because it’s really tempting to do a Strymon 3 box board.
 
@the swede Aye. And something not mentioned here yet is that Strymon use 96kHz A/D and D/A converters on everything. So you can do exactly what you're suggesting: chain a few together with multiple conversions and it can still sound excellent.
 
I keep an Iridium in my gig bag as a backup. If my amp ever decides to take a crap during a show, I've got something to run directly to the PA and survive the gig while taking up just a little more space than a pack of smokes.

I've never even considered plugging it into my computer tho. You guys and your modeler obsession... :LOL:
 
I made the mistake of listening to ElCapV2 clips this AM :oops::brick:cop:chef
It's the "deep dive with designer Pete Celi" videos that always get me. Strymon's Walter White selling colorful pedals.
breaking bad confessions GIF
 
It's the "deep dive with designer Pete Celi" videos that always get me. Strymon's Walter White selling colorful pedals.
I actually liked the embedded player on some of the product pages. Quick clips where they just jump right in.
 
Yeah the videos on the strymon pages for each product is what sucked me in and now I have 5 strymon pedals within 2 months lol.
 
I keep coming back to Strymon. I’ve used just about every amp modeler, every reverb, every delay. Keep coming back to the iridium/bigsky/timeline. They just work and sound great.
 
I keep coming back to Strymon. I’ve used just about every amp modeler, every reverb, every delay. Keep coming back to the iridium/bigsky/timeline. They just work and sound great.
I’d probably get the Iridium, if it had amps that fit for me, and the loop. But yeah every clip sounds good. The FM9 fits the bill, though I do like Strymon effects better.
 
Genuinely, the Timeline and BigSky just feel like "home" - I'm so comfortable with them and love their tones. I hope that one day they do a v2 of these pedals, with more tonal possibilities, but essentially the same quick workflow and excellent midi switching options that have made them the solid go-to's that they are.
 
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