REACTIVATOR by Hagerman Amps (pedal review/demo)

I now realize why Hagerman Amps calls its latest true bypass pedal Reactivator“it’s alive… it’s alive!” This is a low to moderate gain pedal, a two-transistor/two-triode overdrive, but its tube driven components maintain that ‘warm’ and realistic amp sound, which the demo video exemplifies. Many overdrives, whether digital or analog, have a slight bite, harshness or sterile quality, and I don’t use those terms lightly or in an insulting manner. Sometimes you need that cutting-edge with dark amps and pickups, and particularly depending on the mix in which the guitar has to sit. However, the Reactivator is so natural sounding that amps literally do not sound any different, insofar as their underlying characteristics, except with greater detail and robustness – to the point of growling.

This reminds me of Hagerman’s VALVE pedal, except the Reactivator has an EQ and Boost (there are other differences, including the bandwidths, but I wanted to make a general comparison as to the tubey goodness). In fact, the Reactivator utilizes the VALVE’s starved tube section with an added clean gain boost (followed by a tonestack with output buffer). As Jim Hagerman stated, which is very apropos:

“During the early days of TV, if a picture tube grew dim, servicemen could perform a trick called "reactivation", where heater voltage was overdriven to the point of regenerating a poisoned cathode, thus restoring brightness. That's where the name of this pedal comes from! Increasing power from 9V to 12V adds another 6dB of gain for even higher performance. It may not reanimate dead tissue, but it will breathe new life into your guitar. This pedal is absolute magic.”

I’ll describe the sound of the elements, although the demo does a better job. First, do not expect a massive gain, since it sounds more ‘broken up’ and slightly raunchy with a very clean amp. Once you work with crunch tones, you can hear the sparkle and robustness pop through. As you get into higher-gain sounds, you maintain that aggression without the mud or excessive saturation (which means keeping your amp’s gain in check while dialing in nastiness with the Reactivator). This is no different than how any overdrive should work, but this pedal is first-rate in pushing an amp without exaggeration or disappointment, producing an incredibly natural result.

The pedal’s volume offers up to 20dB gain, and up to 30dB with the boost. I do find the boost results in more treble in the tone, which is not a bad thing. For lead, the notes cut through better. And if you want that slight treble boost result, then ease off on the pedal’s Drive and turn on the Boost for some slice and dice rhythm. (On that note, I added Hagerman’s BOOST pedal, which offers both full-band and treble boosting; and boy, does the treble boost, even turned very low, really add to the overall package. However, you can get a similar effect by easing off on the REACTIVATOR’s Drive and engaging its Boost.) The Bass and Treble controls are modest, in that fully cranking either all the way up or down lies within a very usable range, with neither muddy boom nor ear-piercing shrill. This is similar to the Hagerman OVERDRIVE (the blue chassis 12AX7 model), which I reviewed several months back. With some darker amp settings, you can dial back the Bass all the way (or nearly so) and it still sounds good. You then can crank the Treble, and still great results. Very nice!

Here are a few other details. Both the Engage and Boost controls have their own footswitches while sharing the same LED – red when turned on and green when the Boost activates. The Reactivator has a 110k ohm input impedance and a 90Hz to 7kHz bandwidth. It does require a standard negative-center 9V power supply (which converts to 12V internally) while consuming only 135mA of power. Yes, it does come with a 12AU7 tube, which necessitates some care if you plan on adding this to your pedalboard (it removes and inserts very easily if you’re concerned about breakage when transporting to gigs), but with no real handling issues if used in a studio environment. A protective toe bar (cross bar) is one suggestion, but that increases cost and pedal size. Regardless, at $179 USD, the Reactivator is in the boutique price range, although it very much is a boutique-built pedal and with a concomitant boutique sound. Hagerman Amps have never disappointed!