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Thread: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

  1. #1
    Registered User mobi's Avatar
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    Question Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    I am a novice and playing with mandolin only for few months.

    Should I buy an electric mandolin now or wait till I reach intermediate level first?

    Also, can an eletric mandolin be played without electricity? e.g. when I am outdoor without electricity.

    Do I still need to tune it just like non electric ones? Or it will hold tuning like a piano?

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Unless you are planning to play rock mandolin or play in an amplified band, I'd pass on the electric mandolin for now, and maybe even never get one.

    Get a best-for-your-budget-and-style acoustic mandolin.Heck, you can put a contact pickup on it if needed later.

    An electric mandolin is just like an electric guitar or bass. Tuned the same as the regular instrument, played the same (more or less!) and you do need to tune it. Mandolins do NOT hold tuning like a piano, you need to adjust it every time you take it out of the case, and often in between songs. But it's a lot easier to tune than a piano, it's more like tuning a guitar or banjo.

    Where the electricity is needed is the amplifier; although there are some battery amps, most amps plug into the AC current like a TV or other appliance. The amplifier is other part of the package.

    There are basically 3 types of ways to amplify:

    1. some sort of microphone, which can even be inside the instrument

    2. a contact pickup, either inside or on the outside, usually the soundboard; typical of electro-acoustic guitars, the ones that are an acoustic guitar but have built-in pickups and need a battery and have a small set of controls on the side upper bout.

    3. a magnetic pickup like those used on most electric guitars. These also can sound less like an acoustic mandolin, which can be good or bad depending on what you want.

    Anyway, just get a regular mandolin first.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by mobi View Post
    I am a novice and playing with mandolin only for few months.

    Should I buy an electric mandolin now or wait till I reach intermediate level first?

    In my opinion learn on an acoustic anyone in hearing will thank you

    Also, can an eletric mandolin be played without electricity? e.g. when I am outdoor without electricity.

    An acoustic / electric can a solid body can't

    Do I still need to tune it just like non electric ones? Or it will hold tuning like a piano?
    Yes you need to tune it, who said a piano holds tuning,maybe better than a wood instrument but most I come in contact with need tuning, professionals giving concerts usually have them tuned before the concert.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Another aspect... I found the electric to be very useful when I was a fairly awful beginner. Unplugged, that is. Not being heard by the household helped. Disclaimer: I've played bass pretty well for decades and was mortified at the thought of being heard at less than decent level.
    Blow on, man.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    +1, you can use a small Battery powered + headphone (cuts out speaker) amplifier
    and not make the rest of the house hear you practice.

    Semi Acoustic has a rather non resonant body, but still has some..

    Godin makes a really nice one the A8 but that may be above your budget comfort level, now.
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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    I started with both and acoustic and electric because I like acoustic but needed to rock with the nephews. The electric is nice, as mentioned above, because it's quiet when not plugged in, so I can practice later at night and not offend my wife. Moreover, it's just darn fun to have an electric, add a few pedals, and rock out and do some crazy stuff !!! I also loop a chord progression with a Ditto looper and practice breaks, but this can also be done with an acoustic, a mic, and GarageBand, but not quite as convenient.
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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Style. That's the answer. What do you want to play? I have one of each. I love my electric. But it doesn't fly at the folk festival.

    The instrument that is easiest to learn on is the instrument you want to play. That simple.

    Don't listen to the purists who tell you 'only a Gibson or Gilchrist' or anything like that. Not yet anyway.
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  14. #8

    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    I have a Kentucky solid body 4-string electric, and as others already said, it's a nice practice tool when an acoustic would be too loud. I practice without headphones, the acoustic sound is loud enough to practice.
    And plugged in, no one forces you to use effects or distortion.
    Amplified cleanly, it even works halfway decently for classical stuff

    BTW Unless I'm doing some wild string bending, it holds the tuning quite well, but principally, it has to be tuned just like any instrument with real stings.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    It all comes down to what you want to do with the mandolin, like said above you could get a few different mics to pickup your sound one you put on a mic stand or a small one on your mandolin near the bridge or get a pickup for an acoustic or buy one with one already installed in the bridge, they will sound like a mandolin. If you want a solidbody it doesn't sound much like a mandolin but gets tuned and played like one most are 4 strings, some complain about 8 string ones being harder you have to tune more accurate, i like all and have many of all , but i used to play in a metal band so i can have some fun with a solidbody. There are plenty of great battery operated amps you can buy, i take my Roland cube rx with me fishing when i bring my solidbody . The rx even has a drum machine in it
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  18. #10

    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    in addition to all of the above good thoughts......

    and your commitment......and other stringed instrument experience, if any......

    fwiw I don t have a solid body electric mando,but I do have a Rigel with a pick up, and have much experience plugged in and with effects.....

    pros:almost silent unplugged; can use pocket processor (Pandora, etc, and headphones and rock out at 2 am); can use big amplifier to show that banjo player who's boss; electrics are fun, really fun; four strings, likely cool colors; wow factor to non mando playing friends; likely to be easier on the fingers to start-ie half the string fretting resistance; if you wish to dabble before you commit, I can see this as a fun avenue. And that's really important, FUN!

    cons: 4 strings instead of eight; will not sound like a mandolin....imho the 8 strings and tiny dissonance is integral to the sound; simply, other than straight in to an amp, or with reverb, imho, any other processing makes the mando, even with 8 strings like my Rigel, sound virtually the same as a solid body guitar played above the twelfth fret-ie there is, imho , no discernible mando characteristic to be heard. this can be a plus if you want this, but, I like the mando signature sound.

    if im playing Wish you were here, or The Wind Cries Mary, etc on my mando, processed, its fun, but I can do the same on my Les Paul or strat. For me, this is not something that I really like a lot. Jim Richter, however, can show you (utube) however, just what is possible with a solid body mando.

    real con.....you may find you have few(er) to play with....especially if you want to jam bluegrass ....there is a large anti electric bias.....even with bass guitars.......and.....having to deal with an amp , even a tiny, crummy sounding one, is a PITA, no less a 'real amp' which will be heavy...and you need an outlet, extension cords, etc.

    I guess, if you want to play alone and have fun for about 500 (mando and Pandora or kiddy amp) you will likely have a lot of fun.
    if you commit, it likely will not go to waste, but, be a specialized instrument.

    What I would expect, is that you might get a more 'playable' solid body instrument for far less outlay.

    The compromise might be an 8 string a style acoustic with a pick up, not unlike my Rigel A plus, or, a mini guitar shaped Ovation M68, Loar , Kentucky, Eastman etc and add a pick up for 100- 300 depending on the quality of the pick up , DI box etc. I frankly think , depending on your budget, the last might be the best long term.

    If you are not yet aware, set up will be critical no matter your choice (acoustic or electric)

    finally you should be aware that truly acoustic amplified instruments are best played though an amp designed for that, and truly electric (semi solid and solid) are usually played through a different type of amplifier. the former emphasizes the acoustic voice ie uncolored and often optimized to reduce feedback, the latter creates an electric voice, ie pick ups, tubes and speakers doing the coloring of the sound. its not a hard and fast rule, but it is something you should at least be aware of.
    Last edited by stevedenver; Dec-05-2015 at 1:30pm.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Truly acoustic amplified mandolins are amplified acoustically and don't need an amp of any kind. The body is the amp.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    I didn't realize the uses for an electric mandolin, thanks to all for posting them.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    Truly acoustic amplified mandolins are amplified acoustically and don't need an amp of any kind. The body is the amp.
    thats not the point.
    it is about using amplification appropriate to the type of instrument.
    even purists use amplification at times, such as bars, festivals, etc

    using a mic, for example, needs an uncolored amp, like a PA, as opposed to something like a Marshall stack.

    my rigel, and my L5 are both truly accoustic, both have a pick up, as an option.
    essential at times.
    its not an either/or scenario, imho.

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  25. #14
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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Having "grown up" on both acoustic and electric (solid body) guitar, there is an advantage to switching between them that may well carry over to mandolin:

    - The acoustic has generally heavier strings and is a bit tougher to fret, thus building finger strength and callouses.
    - The electric has generally lighter strings, or on mandolin single strings, that ease the building of dexterity and accuracy.

    Put 'em together and there's somewhat greater potential for progress. As in: the electric lets you form a G-chop chord while the acoustic gives you the strength to actually fret that chord.

    BTW, while pianos may look wooden, it's the several hundred pounds of internal steel that provide the tuning consistency. I suppose a several-hundred pound mandolin could be equally consistent except for, you know, occasionally dropping it...
    Last edited by EdHanrahan; Dec-06-2015 at 11:48am.
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    fishing with my mando darrylicshon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Pianos go out of tune all the time, when we do a show with a grand piano it gets tuned 2 times once before sound check then again right before the concert
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  29. #16

    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post
    - The acoustic has generally heavier strings and is a bit tougher to fret, thus building finger strength and callouses.
    - The electric has generally lighter strings, or on mandolin single strings, that ease the building of dexterity and accuracy.
    Also, super-lightweight electric single strings are less damaging to pre-existing bad cartilage in arthritic fingers, less likely to aggravate existing carpal-tunnel or other conditions, etc. Electric instruments are an all-around god-send for people with hand problems due to the person's age or whatever. That is, for practicing at home anyway. The disadvantage comes with lugging around a bunch of gear if you need to take your gear to someplace else to play... although right now I have just as much difficulty carting around an acoustic instrument's heavy case + instrument, as I do my electric gear... wheeled/roller stuff helps.

    And electric instruments help to stave off MAS (Mandolin Acquisition Syndrome), because if you want a new sound, just turn some knobs (or, I guess you could add some pedals although I haven't got that far with electric music yet) and use a different sound-modeling setting... thinking specificially of my cheap Roland Micro Cube amplifier which I've had tons of fun with (I guess there are other types of acoustic-emulators, pedals or something, but I haven't tried them) ... the Roland 'COSM' thing lets me dial in a quasi-"Acoustic" sound for when I want a sweet sound, or on occasions when I want something with some edge/distortion I can dial in one of the rock-type sounds just for fun for a few minutes - fun for playing bagpipe tunes although I probably wouldn't do so publicly - then I go back to the sweeter sound.

    As others have mentioned, the headphone/silent option is particularly nice, I do nearly all my practicing through headphones and I can make whatever horrible racket I want when learning tunes, for as many hours as I want, without disturbing anyone.

    But - here's the downside - you'd probably also (eventually) need an acoustic instrument for certain types of performances, as someone pointed out there is still a lot of non-acceptance of electric instruments (like in jams, Irish sessions etc), which I find really really weird considering that electric instruments have been around since the 1930s (my dad had a 1930s electric Rickenbacker lap steel, it looked like this but without the red knob) and popular since the 1950s (the Sears mail-order catalog had solid-body electric guitars in the 1950s, see Danelectro info and Harmony catalog info) ... although I personally know of musicians who still can't seem to get past the electric-instrument-stereotype of y'know some pharmaceutical-enhanced 'degenerate' rock-n-roller or whatever, in fact that's how *I* thought for a long time, but I got over it. Sometimes I think musicians stubbornly act against their own best interests when it comes to bias towards/against certain types of instruments, if their decisions as to what they like/accept are based purely on principle rather than practicality/playability.
    Last edited by Jess L.; Dec-06-2015 at 8:50pm. Reason: Correction of Sears guitar info.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Electric instruments have been around since the 30's and I have been around since the early 50's but I fail to see what that has to do with anything. I don't like electric instruments because of their tone. As was stated in a previous post a solid body electric mandolin sounds like a solid body electric guitar which sounds nothing like a guitar.it has nothing to do with me thinking that if you play an electric you are a pharmaceutical-enhanced degenerate roc and roller. I just like a guitar to sound like a guitar and a mandolin to sound like a mandolin. Also if you are old enough to remember I didn't like Buck Trents electric banjo either. Those of us that feel this way want to play with people that feel like we do, we don't care if you play your electric instruments jut not with us.

  32. #18

    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    Electric instruments have been around since the 30's and I have been around since the early 50's but I fail to see what that has to do with anything.
    It has *everything* to do with the topic at hand, because some people refuse to allow electric instruments because they think that electric is "too new" (it's only 80+ years old, guess that's not old enough) and "isn't traditional". Well I guess it depends on how one defines "tradition", is music a fixed-state dead-in-the-grave time-capsule thing, restricted and should never be allowed to change, or it music a living thing that's allowed to evolve and change and explore new possibilities?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    I don't like electric instruments because of their tone.
    Agree that it's definitely possible to get some probably-intentionally-harsh sounds out of an electric.

    And, even when the electric player is trying for a sweet sound, it's still not going to be the same as a high-end acoustic. But not everyone can afford a high-end $$$$ acoustic.

    Electric instruments are a poor-person's friend, one can get fairly pleasant tone from a cheap electric setup.

    (An aside, on economics: just the very fact that the electric player can typically easily adjust their own action and intonation at the bridge saddles, is a huge cost-benefit because such adjustments (on an electric) can be done at home with just an allen wrench and a screwdriver, without having to visit an expensive luthier and incur large repair/setup bills.)

    I remember in the 1960s a certain then-local folklore society prohibited Black bluesmen from playing in their gigs because the bluesmen were playing electric instruments, which the folklore society determined was "not traditional" and therefore not allowed. This was stated in print in one of their newsletters at the time, that only if the musician switched to acoustic would they be allowed to play, so the folklore society was expecting people to be phony in order to meet some ideal. The bluesmen were doing the best they could with the budget they had on hand. Most couldn't afford expensive nice-sounding acoustic Gibsons etc., whereas a cheap electric can be made to sound acceptable without as much capital outlay (money). In the end, it was the folklore society's loss, by trying to stick to their philosophical ideals of purity they missed out on a lot of wonderful music.

    Personally, I don't care for the sound of mic'd acoustic instruments, if one is listening to an all-acoustic band where each player has their own mic, the resulting sound from the PA system sounds quite a bit different (to me anyway) than hearing a completely UN-amplified band with no mics, no pickups, no nothin'.

    The way I look at it, there really isn't a pure "acoustic" instrument unless the audience is so small that one doesn't even need microphones or amplification of any sort. Fine for living-room picking I guess, or for playing in huge auditoreums that have great natural acoustics, no mics/pickups/speakers needed.

    But the minute one sticks a microphone near an instrument, then the audience is getting the sound of the instrument at an unnaturally-close distance, it's like the audience has their ear 6 inches (or whatever) from the instrument, which is a different sound than what an audience member would hear when sitting 10 feet away from the instrument. I don't like the mic sound, to me it sounds artificial. I figure as long as the sound is going to be artificial anyway (mic), might as well step it up a notch and go all-electric and be done with it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    it has nothing to do with me thinking that if you play an electric you are a pharmaceutical-enhanced degenerate roc and roller.
    Well I wasn't singling you, or anyone else here, out specifically. But I do personally know people who still think that way, it colors their entire musical perception.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    Those of us that feel this way want to play with people that feel like we do, we don't care if you play your electric instruments just not with us.
    That's cool, to each his/her own. Personally, I prefer the freedom to try new things, rather than being locked down to one particular set of rules. But there's room in the world for all types.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    I started on an electric mandolin (Epi Mandobird)--it's been just under a year.
    hasn't hurt me.
    I can use what I learn on an acoustic one as well--and may get one some day.

    but I'm also mostly not playing what most people would think of as traditional mandolin genres.
    (Blues, rock--but have played some classical as well)
    Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    I tell you what... I spent years on acoustics and turned my nose up to electrics at every opportunity because they were 'inferior' instruments in my way of thinking. I the last 18 months I've had a complete transformation of those ideas and have embraced the ions. I'm not the king of distortion to be sure but I've come to understand first and more importantly appreciate the value that the electric side of the art form provides as it pertains to guitars. Today I own a Les Paul style and an arch top hollow body that that I love. There is a place in my routine for both of them, as their are for the other instruments I own. When I have one I don't have a use for, I either find a use for it or I find a home for it. They are too valuable to sit in a case or on a stand doing nothing. Even the cheapest import from the far east has music value or it wouldn't be in my inventory.

    That said, I have to believe that the value I gained in my acoustic guitar experience; influenced by my electric guitar experience, would be similar to the same that someone would find in a acoustic vs electric mandolin scenario.

    In fact, I am so convinced of this being a factual position that I posted an ad this afternoon in the classifieds looking for a an electric mandolin to assist my acoustic mandolin skill growth. I fully intend to have one soon to duplicate with the mandolin what I experienced with the guitars in the last 18 months; with my mandolins the next 18 months.
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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    I've got acoustics (low-end, sorry ... well not sorry) and two electric Fenders (hollow body and semi-hollow or whatever they call it, I can't keep up with their numbering system) and may end up with a few more in the future. Maybe a solid-body, or the Eastwood (not Eastman) e-mandola, something like that.

    There's definitely a whole world of sound that opens up to you with electrics. Most guitar pedals will work with them. With an octave pedal you can reach well above or below the typical mandolin range. (It doesn't have to be about emulating an electric guitar, but that is an option when you want it.)

    You can get a purer mandolin sound out of an electric if you play it sans effects and especially if you've got an eight-string, hollowbody type.

    I like the guitar emulation aspect of them combined with the familiar (to me) fifths tuning and fretboard, and portability. But I am starting to believe that they are in some ways a different animal than the pure acoustic instrument, in terms of sound. But for other reasons (price, quiet practice, learning the mandolin as a beginner) they fit a perfect niche within a niche.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    I'm no expert, but I'd advise against it. I worked in a guitar shop in college and was really amazed at how easy it can be to sound good on electric guitar with effects, a few basic chords and licks. I'd always played acoustic only. These high school kids would come in, turn up the overdrive, hook up a pedal and sound like a rock star. I'd look at their hands and they were just playing sloppy blues and power chords, maybe a familiar solo half-learned from a guitar magazine. The sustain and electronic tricks make up for lack of technique. Think of the Ramones. Man, they made some fun music, but those guys could hardly play! If you want to really learn to play well, my opinion is that starting on acoustic is better. Sloppiness doesn't work on acoustic. You have to press the strings more evenly and in the proper relation to the frets. You'll build more hand strength and coordination. In the end though, it depends on what kind of music you want to play and what sounds good to you.

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    I have a mandobird VIII, the tone is nothing like an acoustic mandolin. I play it without an amp. When I don't want people to hear. Since I bought a nice acoustic I rarely play the electric

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Like to post this when questions come up about electric mandos.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LC6qXVLfg3E

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    Default Re: Should a beginner buy electric mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by WJC4 View Post
    I'm no expert, but I'd advise against it. I worked in a guitar shop in college and was really amazed at how easy it can be to sound good on electric guitar with effects, a few basic chords and licks. I'd always played acoustic only. These high school kids would come in, turn up the overdrive, hook up a pedal and sound like a rock star. I'd look at their hands and they were just playing sloppy blues and power chords, maybe a familiar solo half-learned from a guitar magazine. The sustain and electronic tricks make up for lack of technique. Think of the Ramones. Man, they made some fun music, but those guys could hardly play! If you want to really learn to play well, my opinion is that starting on acoustic is better. Sloppiness doesn't work on acoustic. You have to press the strings more evenly and in the proper relation to the frets. You'll build more hand strength and coordination. In the end though, it depends on what kind of music you want to play and what sounds good to you.
    Amen. I used to teach (guitar) in a previous life. We always started on acoustic. I had kids quit because they couldn't rock-out on electric right-away. I would have them have them plug-in (sans-effects) to show that it's not the electronics that make the player but touch, training and most of all listening that make the player. It's just that starting on acoustic allows these to develop before starting on the other things to be concerned with when plugging in.

    This is not to say I don't like electrics. I love the tones/textures one can get with different guitars, pedals & amplifiers. I at one point I had what could be calls PAS (pedal acquisition syndrome).

    I love acoustic guitar - my Martin sounds beautiful un-amplified. Mandolin unamplified is beautiful except when one can't be heard. Most of my playing now is acoustic where I can plug-in if needed.

    Play what you love. Listen to all types of music.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Mandolins: Michael Kelley LFN-E, Ibanez M150 w/Baggs Radius (tuned to F)
    Guitars: Martin DX1E w/Fishman Aura (external), Baby Taylor, Ibanez Artwood 12 string,
    Epiphone Les Paul w/Fralin pickups, G&L AST

    Ukuleles: Kala KA-15S soprano, Cordoba 20BM baritone

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