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  #1  
Old 07-10-2009, 02:09 PM
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Smile Choosing the 'right' Bass for you...

Hello fellow Bassists. This is a very important subject and dilemma that we all go through. Here is a short list of common situations many of us face.

(a) Most of the time it is a financial decision that helps determine the range of Basses available within ones budget.

(b) Sometimes 'that' bass is already in our hands but for reasons of condition, repairs needed or set-up issues, its optimum capabilities are not fully realized.

(c) Then again, on occasion it is more of a matter of choosing which of the Basses you already own is going to be 'The One'!

(d) Some other reason entirely or a combination of the above...

I have gone through this problem so much lately that I spend more time on picking a bass that I already have than practicing any one of them which is worse than even playing the wrong bass..

So, lets discuss this very common problem that almost all of us have had at one time or another for one or more of the above reasons.

Let's call this 'Bass choosing' therapy class..
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Old 07-11-2009, 11:37 AM
Eric Hochberg Eric Hochberg is offline
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(a) Most of the time it is a financial decision that helps determine the range of Basses available within ones budget.

That's right. I took out a loan in the late 70's for the Juzek labeled bass that I still find myself playing. Luckily, it's taken me through over 30 years of hard playing, thousands of gigs and well over 1000 recording sessions with an often complemented sound and very little trouble. I outgrew certain aspects of this bass many years ago, but, the family came first and I didn't even bother looking for another bass until a few years ago when my daughter was in college and we decided to downsize.

(b) Sometimes 'that' bass is already in our hands but for reasons of condition, repairs needed or set-up issues, its optimum capabilities are not fully realized.

Well, I did find another bass a couple of years ago. I posted it on the German page when you started this forum. I still own it, it still sounds terrific to me, but I haven't been able to get it to play the way I want it to, so I'm back on the Juzek. I'm either going to make a last ditch effort to get this thing working by taking it to Arnold and maybe a few others out east for their opinions (you too, Ken), or it's out of here and I'm looking again (my Chicago luthier told me to forget that, the Juzek is "my" bass and the grass isn't greener...I think he has a point).

Ken, I think that if I was in your position of having so many wonderful basses to choose from, I would go completely nuts. From your posts, it sounds to me like the Martini is your "go to" bass and Big Ben is the one for special occasions. Do not touch any of the others ever again!
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Last edited by Eric Hochberg; 07-11-2009 at 11:49 AM.
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Old 07-11-2009, 01:47 PM
Arnold Schnitzer Arnold Schnitzer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric Hochberg View Post
(a)

Ken, I think that if I was in your position of having so many wonderful basses to choose from, I would go completely nuts. From your posts, it sounds to me like the Martini is your "go to" bass and Big Ben is the one for special occasions. Do not touch any of the others ever again!
That's right, send them all to Eric for safe keeping.
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Old 07-11-2009, 03:03 PM
Dave Martin Dave Martin is offline
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Financial considerations are probably going to be the number one issue, but there other is finding the instrument that makes you smile within that budget.

When I bought my Juzek (also around 20 years ago), it was from the Bass Viol Shop in Cincinnati. I spent almost all day there, playing every bass in the shop. Everything from cheap $600 plywood (and even fiberglass) basses up to orchestral instruments that were $60K. I had $2000 to spend, and even though there were a number of instruments between the price of the early 60's Juzek and $2000, it was the Juzek that made me smile.

Knowing what I know now, I might well have chosen another instrument. But back then, all I really had to go on was instinct and feel. I guess it worked out - I still like my bass.
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Old 07-11-2009, 03:14 PM
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Cool lol..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric Hochberg View Post
Ken, I think that if I was in your position of having so many wonderful basses to choose from, I would go completely nuts. From your posts, it sounds to me like the Martini is your "go to" bass and Big Ben is the one for special occasions. Do not touch any of the others ever again!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Arnold Schnitzer View Post
That's right, send them all to Eric for safe keeping.
So funny but true in a way. When I was at the ISB I asked two guys there for a quick lesson on maybe one thing or two I should work on to just play better. Having been out of playing for so long till just a few years ago and not studying for decades as well took a toll on my 'getting it all back' plan.

Arnold has seen me play and will appreciate this one. The first guy (a pro orchestra player, no names) suggested I slow everything down and practice the notes that I might be missing because I play fast things very fast that I used to play well and didn't re-build my technique back up this time around. I just 'jumped back onto a speeding train', as the say. That was helpful hearing that because although I know that, I know a lot of things I need to do but where should I actually start? Not music wise, but my approach to practicing.

The second guy (an orchestra pro as well as an Electric bass player) went a step further. What we did both times is I just played for about a minute for them to see what stuck out the most about any weakness that was the most obvious.

He looked at the 6 Bass behind me and said I need to pick just one bass and play and practice on only ONE Bass. Four of the six basses were ones I used depending on which was available to me. You know, one in restoration or set-up, one out on trial and I play or choose from what's left at the time.

So, I picked the Martini because of its comfort and because overall, I play it the best. I am not in love with the neck. I like the Hart and Gilkes better. I am not in love with the overall sound either. It is sweet, has low end spread but is a tight projecting tone and not a wide spreading projector like bass. The Big Gamba spits out the notes the easiest but I don't love the neck or the shoulders and I play it a hair flat in the upper positions due to all of the above. If it was my only bass, I would get used to it. But, switching to the others back and forth, I have trouble finding 'home plate' at times.

Of the 4 basses mentioned (Hart, Gilkes, Martini and Gamba) 3 of them have shown better to orchestra pros with the exception of budget. The Martini is usually the least favored of the 'big hitters' because of having a bit less spread power. This concerns me as I want to have my best in my personal hands but then again, I would need to put them all in a blender as no single bass has everything. There, I said it.

When I returned from the Show, I started on the Martini but soon switched around all the basses picking a different one each time. Sometimes for a day or two and sometimes only an hour or two. Then the 2nd or 3rd time around in less than a month (I can't remember anymore) I settled on the Big Boy because of the sound. Then I remembered that everyone liked it and was the best candidate to sell to an Orchestra pro being less money than the two English Pedigrees mainly because of just that, Pedigree.

I had the Gamba in my rack with the Hard beside it as a 2nd if I needed the shoulder reach for a program. Then just the other day onTuesday I was all bandaged up on my left arm, wrist to shoulder from having some elective surgery on my arm. I chose July because it's the time I can most afford to heal up and do less. With several incisions stitched up under the bandages I started playing each bass to see which was easier with my restricted movement. It was not the Gamba for reach and not the Hart for the shoulders but the Martini and Gilkes for their slightly smaller shoulders.

Look, I can cover 3 of them up so I don't touch them and take one home and mark it not for sale. That's the easy part. The hard part is choosing which one will overall suit me best and will be less likely to be sold as I do show them all. The 'sold' part is one I cannot predict. One never knows!

So, in my 2-space rack near my desk are now the Gilkes and Martini. The Gilkes because thats the only space I have for it and my favorite 2nd for comfort and the Martini because that's the one overall I like playing the most. If I was in a major orchestra I might need more sound but at my 2nd lesson my friend pointed out that the Martini is better than all of the Basses in the orchestra he plays in and when he has subbed in the Philly Orchestra, it is also better than a few of the basses over there as well. So, if I was playing in the Philly (not this lifetime) the Martini would still work just fine.

On Wednesday I un-bandaged my shoulder and played the Martini as much as I could being it's a slow week at work. I think until the Stroioni is restored and 3 or 4 others I have out, the Martini will be the one. In about 2 years from now, I will be going thru this all over again.. lol

By the way, in the 5+ years I have had both the Martini and Gilkes I have used them fairly equally. The Martini for smooth deep blending and the Gilkes for audible power. I measured the bridges and nuts on both of them and they are so close. Overall, the Martini is 1mm wider at the bridge and a hair less arch in the middle. Overall, the Gilkes is 1mm wider at the Nut. That is a 3rd of a mm difference per string in the spacing. The Martini is 41.5" S.L. with slightly sloped shoulders and the Gilkes is 41" S.L. with modified Cello shoulders. The longer Martini with a D-neck is easier to play than the shorter Gilkes with closer to an Eb neck, go figure. The Martini's ribs at the neck and upper shoulders are narrower as well as compared to the Gilkes.

I just wish the Martini had the power of the Gilkes, crunch of the Hart and the bazooka tone projection of the Gamba. Either way, my only hope for an improved bass to play would be the Storioni when it's restored. It played east at 44" with narrower ribs and sloped shoulders with as much sound as the Gamba and sweetness topping all of the above in the tone department.

Now you know why my head is always spinning..
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Old 07-11-2009, 07:50 PM
Charles Stark Charles Stark is offline
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I had a fairly unusual scenario for trying to find the "right" bass for me. I'm sure you're all aware of my constant talks about my physical shortcomings. For me, it was about finding an instrument with narrow shoulders that had a good amount of slope to them. Also a bass that had a very large neck angle and large over-stand.
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Old 07-11-2009, 09:17 PM
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Cool so..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Calvin Marks View Post
I had a fairly unusual scenario for trying to find the "right" bass for me. I'm sure you're all aware of my constant talks about my physical shortcomings. For me, it was about finding an instrument with narrow shoulders that had a good amount of slope to them. Also a bass that had a very large neck angle and large over-stand.
I am well aware of your situation from reading it on-line. Have you reached the final chapter with this? Bass, set-up, strings, etc? The sound there where you want it?

Hey, it's great to dream. Then at least we know what we really want.

For me, it changes by the day. I know what I said earlier today in the above post and then when I came in to the office I played for about an hour on the Martini. I now know that I prefer an Eb neck, period! The Martini and Gamba are Ds and gonna stay that way. The Gilkes is a finger width short of an Eb so just about close enough in that area. The Hart is a dead on Eb and I just love the added reach I can get with it. The two things I don't like currently are the broader shoulders and the edge on the top of the note when playing the Bass. That edge though fades away as you walk further from the Bass. I remember that the best part of this Bass when I bought it was the smooth Italian sounding 'G' string and that diminished from slightly the D, A and E as you went lower. The Top was sunk in, split all over and the Back was off the upper bass-side cornerblock by a 'hand' sized opening. You could literaly reach inside the Bass there.

The sound of the Hart I believe will come back in a matter of time because it just went thru a massive restoration, the last one being done in 1944, London. At that time we believe the Top was overly thinned in a few spots and that partially caused the stressed condition of the Bass 40 years later when it was retired from use. Now that it is all in tip top physical shape but it just needs to be played. Patience on my part and playing it is the only remedy (unless it gets sold..). The shoulders are broader than the Martini but they are sloped in more at the Neck area. From the level of the shoulders on the Hart you can reach about a whole tone higher on the fingerboard parallel to that position over the Martini. So the slightly broader shoulders are really the only thing that I have to get used to on the Hart. I prefer that challenge over the D neck issue which cannot be fixed as easily on the Martini nor gotten used to.

Lets see which way the wind blows next week.. lol

All kidding aside, I have hardly used the Hart bass but on a handfull of concerts. I was afaraid to take it out most of the time to tell the truth. Maybe if I had this Bass in my hands for 5 years like the Martini the choice wouldn't be as difficult. I used to love my old Italian Bass that I have for 20 years. It was barely a D neck and over 42". Still, I played it almost every day for 15 years and always with a smile. The smile took a few years to come but never went away after that.

For what it's worth, in my situation money is not the factor here because I already have the Basses mentioned above. It's purely comfort. I like my Eb neck Blockless bass more than some of the more expensive D necked pedigrees as well but that's another story. It's just more fun to play.

Fun! Now there's a word we need to put into the official Bass search list. Is the Bass more fun to play or more work. I would venture to say that if it's more work, keep looking!
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Old 07-11-2009, 10:24 PM
Ken McKay Ken McKay is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Calvin Marks View Post
I had a fairly unusual scenario for trying to find the "right" bass for me. I'm sure you're all aware of my constant talks about my physical shortcomings. For me, it was about finding an instrument with narrow shoulders that had a good amount of slope to them. Also a bass that had a very large neck angle and large over-stand.
Calvin, what do you mean regarding the last sentence.

I assume it keeps your right and left hands close to your body.
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Old 07-12-2009, 01:45 AM
Charles Stark Charles Stark is offline
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Originally Posted by Ken Smith View Post
I am well aware of your situation from reading it on-line. Have you reached the final chapter with this? Bass, set-up, strings, etc? The sound there where you want it?
To be honest, I don't think I'm ever going to be completely satisfied with my set-up, strings and sound. I'm quite the perfectionist and it often creeps into how I make music, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

There's always going to be a better set of strings out there or perhaps a slightly better bridge angle. All I can say is, for now I can play the bass without being in pain; this I could not achieve one year ago before I got this instrument.

The sound is very dark, I think I'll have to rest on the fact that it is just a very dark sounding bass, and I'll have to live with that fact, instead of spending more amounts of money on strings and such.

One day, hopefully when I'm in a decent orchestra I'll have the money and knowledge to get a great master instrument that suits my body type, until then I'm perfectly happy playing on a good modern instrument.
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Old 07-12-2009, 01:47 AM
Charles Stark Charles Stark is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken McKay View Post
Calvin, what do you mean regarding the last sentence.

I assume it keeps your right and left hands close to your body.
The large over-stand helps me reach to the end of the fingerboard. The majority of my playing is solo-playing, so my set-up is very much like Gary Karr's. Not very practical for "orchestra" playing, but that's my style and it's how I express myself best.
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Old 07-12-2009, 06:26 PM
Arnold Schnitzer Arnold Schnitzer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Calvin Marks View Post
The large over-stand helps me reach to the end of the fingerboard.
How high is the overstand? The bridge?
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Old 07-12-2009, 08:40 PM
Charles Stark Charles Stark is offline
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How high is the overstand? The bridge?
How would you like me to measure the overstand?
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:24 PM
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Lightbulb well..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Calvin Marks View Post
How would you like me to measure the overstand?
Until Arnold gets back on line, place a small ruler on the Top where the bottom of the Neck sits in the Block. From the Top to the underside of the Fingerboard (or the surface of the Neck that the FB sits on) is the measurement you want. That space is called the overstand. How far the Neck is off the Top!

My Basses that were set by Arnold average 34-36mm of space between and described above. Here are some pics for reference;


This big 4/4 Gamba is set out quite a bit more due to the wider shoulders, longer body length and center bout width. I have seen one other large shouldered bass just recently out of restoration that was set out even more than this one and it needed it to avoid being cut!
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:25 PM
Ken McKay Ken McKay is offline
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From the top plate to the underside of the fingerboard at the end of the neck.

...and the bridge from the top in between the A and D string.


Oh I see KS beat me too it, of course.
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:38 PM
Ken McKay Ken McKay is offline
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Default Neck angle

Another thing is the angle of the neck in relation to the back.

I am asking here. If the neck angles back too much it makes it hard for the left arm and the player tends to want to lean back while playing in first position and then forward when going up to the higher positions. Right?

What are some landmarks in regard to this? I might need to do some drawings.
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Old 07-12-2009, 10:02 PM
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Lightbulb Neck angles and comfort..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken McKay View Post
Another thing is the angle of the neck in relation to the back.

I am asking here. If the neck angles back too much it makes it hard for the left arm and the player tends to want to lean back while playing in first position and then forward when going up to the higher positions. Right?

What are some landmarks in regard to this? I might need to do some drawings.
Not quite off topic but rather a very important comfort factor that is usually not even considered and we take what is given to us. Here are some pics of my basses for the sole purpose of looking at the Neck-to-body angles. I don't know the angles but there is so much else to be considered along with this for playability. The top arch, the center bout width, the back length, the rib depth at the neck and mid upper bout that may touch your body and the top and back lengths respectively with how the neck must be set as one plate is often longer or shorter then the other. Here we go;



Have a look at these and compare. Feel free to ask me which are easier to play standing and/or sitting. I hope I can remember them all otherwise I will have to test them and report back. One of them is out in restoration but I remember it fairly well. Have fun..
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Old 07-13-2009, 09:43 AM
Ken McKay Ken McKay is offline
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KS I see you did a lot of work putting up the side views.

I captured these basses earlier and put a straight line from the back up to the scroll to illustrate the angle differences, then I added the front line to create a "box" where the nut sits inside.
I did this last night but didn't post it so here it is. Pretty much the same as yours but with the lines. You obviously don't need the line, you can just look, but it does help define how far the fingerboard is out from the left hand.

Question: Is the distance from the imaginary line up the back in relation to the nut (just where the strings exit the fingerboard, a variable to control? When designing or restoring a bass where the neck will be reset the overstand can be varied by adding some wood to the heel (or removing). A bigger overstand will allow the nut to move more away from the imaginary back line and visa versa.

This reminds me of the old Sesame Street game "One of these things doesn't belong".
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Last edited by Ken McKay; 07-13-2009 at 12:54 PM. Reason: clarity
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Old 07-13-2009, 01:47 PM
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Cool interesting..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken McKay View Post
KS I see you did a lot of work putting up the side views.

I captured these basses earlier and put a straight line from the back up to the scroll to illustrate the angle differences, then I added the front line to create a "box" where the nut sits inside.
I did this last night but didn't post it so here it is. Pretty much the same as yours but with the lines. You obviously don't need the line, you can just look, but it does help define how far the fingerboard is out from the left hand.

Question: Is the distance from the imaginary line up the back in relation to the nut (just where the strings exit the fingerboard, a variable to control? When designing or restoring a bass where the neck will be reset the overstand can be varied by adding some wood to the heel (or removing). A bigger overstand will allow the nut to move more away from the imaginary back line and visa versa.

This reminds me of the old Sesame Street game "One of these things doesn't belong".
Well, it was not much work for me because they were just from the page shots we took awhile ago. Nothing more than copy and paste for me here.

So, as far as you can see, which basses have the least pitch, most pitch or most comfortable 'looking' pitch in your mind for what you can see.

As far as what can be controlled, often in restoring an old bass, the string length is something we try and control in the planning. Making it longer, shorter of keeping it the same. Sometimes they are re-pitched slightly and sometimes not. Some times they are set lower into the block and sometimes just moved out.

All of these steps are possible to do but what ever is practical for each bass to achieve the desired results is what will be done. The optimum achievement can only be done with a blank check so to speak. You cannot do this 'on the cheap'. The bass needs what it needs to get it as good as IT can be for today's playing styles. Sometimes it's very little and sometimes it's everything.

Here is a list (from what I can remember) of the things that have been done to a few of my basses. Some had one or two steps done and some everything;

Scroll/neck Graft, new fingerboard, c-extension, block cut, block expanded, new block, underside heel shim/pitch, re-pitch, fingerboard shim, fingerboard shim/pitch, neck lengthened with graft, neck shortened with graft, bridge moved forward to adjust note stop, heel recarved deeper/smaller, neck recarved shallower, etc.. In other words, what ever it takes to make a particular bass the best that it can be for you. The 'for you' part is a big one. Not everyone wants the same neck or feel.

I can't tell you how many basses with D-necks with 'healthy heels' that I wanted cut down into Eb-necks for my personal taste and was talked out of the idea by Arnold because these were basses for sale in my stock. The modern players are trained to play the d-neck classically but for me playing jazz and classical etc., I prefer the Eb for all around playing. Playing the f/1 and g/4 on the A-string are important for me as well as the c/1 and d/1 on the E-string, and not just playing up the bass on the G and D string. I like my reach over the neck and heel from fingered to thumb positions to be as little a transition as possible. This is what I mean by liking the Eb better personally. Others trained on a d-neck may have difficulty playing in tune in that transitional area regardless of comfort in the long run.
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Old 07-13-2009, 02:17 PM
Arnold Schnitzer Arnold Schnitzer is offline
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The measurements I concern myself with are the overstand and the bridge height. If the bass has broad shoulders, higher overstand can help a bit with playabilty in "no-man's land" and thumb position. Too high and you reduce the breakover angle at the bridge too much. The bridge needs to be high enough for adequate bow clearance and top pressure, but not so high as to choke the sound, or cause the player fatigue in the bow arm. I don't believe the angle of the back to the scroll is relevant, because basses have all kinds of back tapers. Some have a constant taper from endblock to neck. Some have no taper until the upper bout. Some have a little taper at the bottom and then more in the upper bout (mine). And then there are some with no taper at all.
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Old 07-13-2009, 02:53 PM
Ken McKay Ken McKay is offline
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Thanks! It is a lot to think about. My lines do help me though. Even if the relation of the back to the neck front is not relevant, it shows the angle over the top by the relative position of the nut from the front line.
I better get off the internet, I'm supposed to be packing something up for Arnold.
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