Effects pedals are problematic for me. I seem to have a bit of an addictive personality and like the whole idea of a ‘collection’. From having all the individual Tin Tin books on my bookshelf, to my complete set of The Journal of Popular Noise looking sleekit on an IKEA Expedit, I am a bit of an easy target. The same goes for effects pedals: there’s always ‘just one more’ to add to the pedalboard. That’s why a got a bit nervous when I saw, then heard, the Stompnorth Midgie booster overdrive.
Feet-on review of the Stompnorth Midgie booster/overdrive
This is not a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ type of overdrive pedal, you’re not even likely to call it ‘versatile’ – depending on your definition of ‘versatile’ of course… Turning the drive knob from nothing to all does not take you from a bluesy crunch to a full on metal distortion.
And that’s most certainly a good thing.
You know that overdrive pedal you’ve got where there’s that ‘sweet-spot’ where you get this wonderful, creamy, valve amp just breaking up style of crunch? That’s what this pedal gives you, it just gives you a lot more degrees of crunch within that sweet spot, as it expands it over the entire range of knob rotation.
Want more crunch, then switch to hotter pickups or stick a boost pedal in front of it, or put another overdrive pedal after it.
It’s perhaps wrong to think of this pedal as an ‘effect’ pedal. An effect suggests that it’s something you switch on and off at different times to draw attention to itself, or add some ear candy. This pedal is about finding your basic tone and leaving it switched on; all your ‘effects’ pedals come after it.
The Stompnorth Midgie certainly looks like a small-run boutique pedal. A simple silver box, some quirky graphics, and – likely to be unique on your pedalboard – an indicator light containing a midge from the Inner Hebrides.
It is a joy to open the simple-looking box, but discover the pedal wrapped in a layers of tissue and brown wax paper; it makes trying out your new pedal for the first time feel a bit more of an event.
The controls all feel firm, with no wiggle on the pots, the switches feel robust, and the footswitch sturdy. The jewel light is a reassuringly bright green, but without the ‘too-bright’ you often get from blue and white LEDs. And, let’s be honest, for those who’ve been hillwalking in the dusk hours near Aviemore in the late summer, there aren’t many things more Scottish than an eponymous biting insect.
Inside, all is neat and tidy, with the big ol’ Jupiter capacitor taking pride-of-place on the hand-wired point to point board. The battery is held in place by compressing a piece of sturdy foam and wedging itself against the bottom plate rather than with a clip, but that at least reduces the amount of breakable pieces in the pedal, and it seems like it should last a good while!
The sound of the Midgie
And here we go, the interesting part. I spent a lot of time with this pedal, and tried it with a reasonable selection of gear. Amp-wise, most of the testing was done with my stock Vox AC15-C1, which is also hooked up to an Orange extension cab; I also used a Blackstar HT-Club 40.
Guitar-wise, I used a Fender American Standard Strat, an FSR Telecaster, a Les Paul Standard and my Gibson Blueshawk Limited. There are two things that really stand out with this pedal: the first is the gain structure, the second is the guitar you use.
So, the first, gain structure. Looking at the output knob, on our review version, unity gain was nowhere near the 12 0’clock position, it was close to the beginning of pot travel; somewhere around half seven. So, if you’re used to setting your control knobs to the centre to find a good starting point, forget it with the Midgie. Start just above zero.
The second is the guitar. Well, perhaps – more specifically – the pickups. With a single-coil Strat, even with the drive control on full, you won’t get huge amounts of grunt, especially not on single notes. Chords will crunch up beautifully though. What you will get though, is a subtle – almost psychoacoustic – ‘thickening’ of the tone. Some subtle extra harmonics are in there, but don’t come across as full-on dirt. The Midgie isn’t done there though, and we’ll come back to that in a moment…
Switch to the ‘buckers of a Les Paul Standard though, and the crunch is there, almost heading to a vintage fuzz-style tone at the extreme end of the drive knob. And that’s before we play with the output knob…
So, the output knob. This is a handy feature. There is a lot of gain on tap here. And when you switch the pedal into booster mode, you get it from the drive knob too! This control is perfect for hitting the front end of your amp harder and adding in some preamp crunch as well.
This is why I described this pedal as an ‘always-on’ device. This is the pedal you use for dialing in the perfect sound from your amp up front. With the amount of boost on tap – in addition to its own overdrive stage – this is the perfect pedal for non-master volume valve amps. Simply hit the front end of your amp as hard as you like with the pedal and adjust the amp volume to fit the situation. Job done.
With my Strat and the top-boost volume on the Vox down low for in-the-house practice, I could dial in just the amount of grit I wanted. And with the drive control of the pedal and the preamp stage of the amp offering different break-up sounds, I could balance the amount of each using the two knobs on the pedal. Set and forget.
The same goes for the Les Paul – and the Tele and Blueshawk for that matter – this pedal lets the character of individual guitars come out the other side. A Strat is still a Strat; a Les Paul is still a Les Paul. And when you add in the onboard freebie of a choice between silicon and germanium circuits, you really have a great pedal for getting your basic tone nailed. Then you’re free to add your ‘effects’ on top of that.
And that brings us back to our definition of ‘versatile’. This is not a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ pedal, but when you consider the drive, the amount of gain, and the choice of Si or Ge diodes, it is a master of more than one. What struck me most of all was how much difference the choice of guitar/pickups made. With this pedal, between your guitar and your amp, your perfect crunch is but a few knob tweaks away…
This pedal is Coolicoides
So, the Stompnorth Midgie is perhaps not for the beginner, or those who want to quickly add it to their rig and get instant results. The idiosyncratic nature of its gain structure and narrow range of overdrive sounds (if you stick to one guitar and don’t put anything upfront) mean that the Stompnorth Midgie is not for everyone. It takes some effort to set it up and get things set to the right level for your own particular guitar/amp setup. If you switch between guitars often, you might want to break out the China pencil or the marker pen.
Once you’ve got you eye in though, perfect crunch with incredible string-separation is there: yours for the taking…
Anyway, let’s let Christian from The Deluxe take an early version of the Midgie through its paces:
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