A couple weeks ago, we participated in a Reddit AMA “Ask Me Anything”, where Reddit users asked us questions about any topic. If you’re unfamiliar: it’s kind of like a press conference, but online (and with more internet memes).
We’ve since answered as many questions as we could, but thought it would be nice to post a bunch of the more popular questions and answers up here on our blog. Take a look below. If you have any other questions for us, please feel free to post in the comments below, or shoot an email over to firstname.lastname@example.org.
sethmcclure asked: What’s the process for coming up with an idea for a new pedal?
A lot of it starts with us all sitting around and brainstorming. Sometimes Gregg will have a circuit idea, sometimes Pete comes across some insight on a new way to approach a particular sound. We have a very open shop space so it makes collaboration very easy. We bounce around potential implementations for many weeks and keep refining as we go. We do study, review and examine a lot of gear, as well academic papers and programming techniques. And Pete spends a ton of time testing, tweaking, and tweaking some more. – Ethan (marketing)
ByeByeEmpire asked: … How do you know when a pedal is “done” or “complete”? Your pedals have a ton of features, but they still seem elegantly simple. How do you know if you’ve added too much, or not enough?
First Pete has to declare that this is the greatest sounding effect ever in the history of the universe after which he will declare that what you heard before was unimaginably awful and he now has the greatest sounding effect ever in the history of the universe. After about three or four of these cycles, it’s ready. 🙂 The features come from lots of testing and putting in a taking out stuff until it “feels right”. – Gregg (analog engineer)
poprhythm asked: … For the big-box pedals (Timeline, Mobius, BigSky), could you tell us of any difficult choices when designing/selecting the 12 different effect machines?
For TimeLine and BigSky, the challenge was to define twelve different algorithms that were unique and interesting without being derivative of each other. It’s expected to have types like ‘Analog’, ‘Digital’, Tape’, and ‘Reverse’, but e.g. our Trem Delay, Filter Delay, Ice Delay and Lo-Fi delay algorithms were born out of the desire to push the creative envelope. These are great delay types for those looking to explore new sonic territories and are unique to TimeLine. Similarly for BigSky, Hall, Plate, Room and Spring are expected, but Cloud, Bloom, Chorale, Shimmer and Magneto are for the more adventurous. They were also a lot of fun to develop and learn from. For Mobius, there were many more ‘standard’ mod effects to fill the dial, but the Quadrature was a great algorithm platform to take ring-mod style effects to another level. – Pete (dsp engineer / sound designer)
Jakevp asked: Strymon seems to have found a good balance between the creative and exploratory guitar sounds… as well as making pedals that are practical for a working/touring guitarist that needs consistent and reliable options… How has that factored in to the way you guys design pedals?
We understand that some players like to tweak, and some players like to set-and-forget. Some just like to turn knobs, and others prefer having presets all set up for their gig. We try our best to allow all players to have a great experience very quickly, but can then dive deeper and get tweaky—only if you want to. We do think about this all the time, as all of us here are very different in the way we each interact with gear. – Ethan
Johnny_Necktie asked: When designing pedals, what do you guys take in to an account? Do you … [use] weird pedals for their subtleties? Do you guys have some ideas for some “unconventional” pedals?
When we are developing ideas and working on new projects, part of the process is to look at existing circuits and find ways to push them a bit beyond what they were originally capable of achieving. We do like to give our customers a range of tone that allows for the more straightforward approaches as well as sounds for those that want to push the envelope. Sure, we have definitely bounced around a lot of ideas for some truly strange pedals. Though even now we do offer some sounds for the sonically adventurous within TimeLine, Mobius, and BigSky. The Lo-Fi, Filter, and Ice machines in TimeLine, the Destroyer and Quadrature machines in Mobius, and the Chorale and Cloud machines within BigSky can all allow you to create some very unique and wacky sounds. – Ethan
JuicySushi asked: How fierce are the discussions to choose the pedal colors? … I can imagine Strymoneers sitting around a table, discussion slowly evolving into an all-out melee over what shade of blue best encapsulates reverb.
Fun question. So yes, all of our discussions about pedals (ideas, sounds, colors, features, etc) can get fierce! But in a good (and non-violent!) way. We’re all super passionate about what we do here. The army green Brigadier color choice was easy, it just seemed to make sense. BigSky was also a no-brainer, but some of the other pedals took a lot longer to settle on. We spent a lot of time playing with the color for TimeLine. We had an early white chassis prototype that was stolen as the paint was drying, right behind our shop! It was probably a good thing, none of us really liked the white for that pedal. Ultimately we all felt strongly about the gun-metal grey. We’re working on something new right now, and have tried over a dozen different finishes. It’s looking like we’re going to try a new finishing process that we haven’t done yet. – Ethan
ImAnObOdY asked: Do you know any songs/guitarists that use any of your effect pedals?
We appreciate everyone that uses our gear, from Ed O’Brien of Radiohead to the YouTube guys just getting started out with 10 views, making noise in their bedroom studios. There are a ton of artists and bands that we really admire that use our gear. We can say that our pedals have been spotted on the boards of Jeff Beck, Andy Summers, John Mayer, Peter Frampton, Ed O’Brien w/Radiohead, Killian Gavin w/Boy & Bear, Matthew Hoopes w/Reliant K, Edd Gibson w/Friendly Fires, Billy Corgan, Robben Ford, Michael Landau, Rascal Flatts, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Foals, Joe Bonamassa, among others. Make sure to check our blog, because we feature some artists up there. Thanks! – Ethan
blakefischer asked: Obviously your pedals are designed for guitarist, but what’s the most unique use you’ve seen for any of your pedals outside of the normal guitar setup?
We have seen quite a few people hook up their violins including David Gerald Sutton, Jennifer Rimm w/Run River North, and Lizzie Ball. Every different kind of keyboard and synth you can think of, check out Peter Dyer, and there are many more on YouTube. Also a lot of cool modular implementations—check out Alessandro Cortini w/Nine Inch Nails, Sleepwalk on Vine, and taqoshell on Instagram. We also have seen a Saxophone, Harp and Vocals used. We love to see all the diversity. – Angela (community / social media)
jaspercapri asked: How did the name Strymon come about?
So you’ve got to look back several thousand years before the advent of effects pedals! In Greek mythology, Strymon was a river god, who had a son with Euterpe, one of the nine goddesses of music, song, and dance. The name really resonated with us, and we were fond of the mythical connection to music and creativity. – Ethan
Infinitezen asked: It seems that most everyone in the guitar world agrees that your algorithms and chipsets are currently producing some of the highest quality sounds in the effects world. Given the cache that you have built for yourself in the last few years, I think the main question is where do you go from here? Do you try and keep your “boutique” identity or do you try and create some mass market products that could break you into the big leagues?
Thanks for the question! I know it does sound a bit cliché, but we truly are interested in continuing to create pedals that we think will inspire our customers to be insanely creative and create amazing music. Along with developing products that we’d love to use ourselves, and working on projects that are fun and interesting for us to design and develop. We don’t ever want to do anything that will compromise the quality of our pedals. Many of us have worked for companies that put profits above their values and it was really no fun at all. While we’d love for our future products to be loved by many, we don’t ever want to get there by risking our values or skimping on quality. – Ethan
nyul asked: Recently there has been quite a rage about analog gear (most notably the analog synthesizers). A lot of people seem to prefer gear with full analog paths over digital gear because analog sounds better than the ‘cold’ digital devices etc. What do you think of this? Do you believe full analog circuits sound better? Or is it just a case of smart marketing? Some of your pedals wouldn’t be possible without using digital parts, is analog gear in a sense limiting itself? How do you envision the future, will devices stay (partly) analog or will digital processing take over?
The power of DSP will continue to grow and to create new possibilities, but tube amps haven’t gone away and neither will devices that are fully analog. What sounds ‘better’ is always a matter subjectivity—beauty is in the ear of the beholder. But ‘digital’ as a descriptor for sound has no meaning, unless you’re talking about 8-bit conversion or low sample rates, neither of which are issues in any modern digital system. In today’s sound-related lingo, it seems like ‘digital’ means ‘preserving the input bandwidth’ and ‘analog’ means ‘some high end roll-off’, and the causes for either may have nothing to do with any digital process. In any case, it’s a great time to be a musician with so many options and tools available. – Pete
There are some interesting interactions between a guitar pickup and the input stage of a tube amp that can’t be emulated in DSP wihout knowledge of the pickup’s output impedance. But an analog synthesizer is a different beast. I don’t think there is any inherent reason that a digital synthesizer should be inferior to the analog counterpart. But that doesn’t mean that designers of digital synthesizers have been able to capture all the nuance of the analog circuits. Consider CGI in movies, some of the early uses were clearly inferior to miniatures or other “analog” techniques but as computing power increases and designers’ skill increases the gap continues to close. It’s hard to imagine that we won’t soon reach a point where the two are indistinguishable. – Gregg
anotherbadusername asked: Your pedals run between -400 mA while Eventide has theirs rated at 1200 mA. How do you manage to have such a low current compared to your competitors at Eventide? Also, I’m an Electrical Engineering student. Do any of you have a degree in that field (or have any advice for prospective students)?
It was actually a real challenge to get the current to that level. The short answer is to use switching power supplies wherever possible. Linear regulators are much easier to design with but are, by nature, inefficient. We do use linear regulators in several places, for example, the power for the CODEC is provided by a linear regulator to get the best noise performance. The DSP core and SDRAM are powered from switchers as they draw large currents and are not sensitive to noise. Keeping the digital and analog systems isolated is the other big engineering challenge that we faced. Yes, the engineers here have EE degrees. Advice for prospective students: you’ve got to understand the fundamentals! – Gregg
RJB5584 asked: 1. What chip(s) was/were the dBucket algo based on, and how did you decide on that? With the costs and counterfeiting of MN3005, were the numbers based on averages of multiple chips, or a single chip that had all the right factors? 2. In your opinion(s), is it better to faithfully recreate a classic sound or design, or improve the design through new tech?
1. We didn’t single out a specific individual chip, but implemented, arithmetically, the transistor-capacitor circuitry that these chips use (check out the circuit diagram at bottom of the 2nd page of the MN3005 data sheet). We assigned variable parameters to the transistor and capacitor non-linearities and leakage to allow for chip performance ranging from ‘perfect’ to ‘grungy’.
2. Both have their place. I think it’s great to allow for a range of experiences that the user can control to his/her taste. A good example is the bucket loss control on our dBucket delays. You can dial in for fuzzy familiarity, or clean it up beyond the possibilities of the physical BBD chips. – Pete
thebigkevdogg asked: I’m a musician … and geophysicist. Am I correct that your (and everyone else’s) DSP algorithms represent the “empirical” approach, where you are trying to recreate something by modeling the results of a physical process, but not modeling the physics themselves? …
Well, I can’t speak for everyone else, but our algorithms combine both empirical and and simulation approaches. For example, our dBucket technology actually solves a host of equations to determine the capacitor charge on each stage of a BBD chip, and our Reflections Reverb algorithm calculates room reflections for a given source location in a varying room size and shape. But we take the approach that product design contains equal amounts of art and science, so we always use our ears and add some of our own interpretation to the end result. For lots of interesting and educational material on the state of simulation techniques, check out https://ccrma.stanford.edu/ for hours of fun. — Pete
KeytarVillain asked: I’m about to graduate with an electrical engineering degree, specializing in DSP… What sort of qualifications do you look for?
We each have our specialties but a well rounded understanding of analog and digital circuits is important. Even if you want to be a pure DSP programmer, a good understanding of analog circuits is important. There is much to be learned by investigating analog circuits and understanding what elements of a design may contribute to certain sonic characteristics. And then the challenge is to effectively translate those elements into equations for the DSP. – Gregg
itsshaw asked: What are your favorite non-Strymon pedals on your pedalboard(s)?
We thought a bunch of us could answer this one:
And then two non-pedal answers:
ballinthrowaway asked: We all know you love pedals, what are your favorite guitars?
neeaaalll asked: My question is, what is your favorite amp, and why is it the twin reverb?
Mattedor30 asked: Will there ever be a Strymon Overdrive/Distortion/Fuzz pedal? I can only imagine what you guys would be capable of putting in a stompbox!
Yes we’d definitely like to head in this direction! We have lots of ideas and prototypes, but nothing final at this point. Like everything that we do, we always want to try to bring something unique to the table. – Ethan
BFelix31 asked: Have you considered making a software plug-in version of your hardware for DAW use? Perhaps partnering with the folks at Universal Audio?
We’d love to work with UA. They make some great stuff, we really admire what they’re doing. We would definitely consider it, and we do know that some of our customers would love to see us make plug-ins. – Ethan
Josueatthebb asked: Have you ever considered making an fx module for vocals? (TC Helicon fashion) I bet you guys can set up the bar higher. ALSO, thank you for the BigSky reverb, it’s probably the most musical-inspiring pedal I’ve ever played through. It will be the next thing I’ll buy for my rig.
Pedals designed specifically for vocalists is actually something that we haven’t really talked about much. We’d be interested in doing more research in this area to see what singers are looking for. I actually use our pedals for vocals all the time. An XLR to 1/4″ adapter is really all you’ll need if you wanted to give it a shot. In my live rig I use TimeLine on my vocals, and in the studio I use BigSky as an insert on vocal tracks. – Ethan