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Thread: Mandolin sound changing over time

  1. #76
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    How much of this is change is actually just cells vibrating and opening up enough to let the remaining moisture escape? I have always figured torrefication was just a bit more extreme way to eek some trapped moisture out of the woods cells.
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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    I'm an engineer by education (well, I started as a music major and then changed over to Electrical Engineering after 3 semesters), so I am all for the scientific method. That being said, history is full of scientific research that came to faulty conclusions - that's part of the scientific process. Does your work stand up to peer review? Can I replicate your experiments and get similar results? I am also well aware of just how faulty human perception is. The norm is for people to take their limited data points and draw faulty conclusions. That's just the way the brain works. It HAS to simplify, to jump to conclusions based on experience and observation, or else the chaos around the person would be overwhelming. Thus the need for the scientific method!
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  4. #78

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    "The norm is for people to take their limited data points and draw faulty conclusions."

    While I totally agree with you re: the preponderance of fault conclusions, how many data points would
    it take to draw a "non-faulty" conclusion? At some point (if you really care to, debatable) you'll have to
    draw your own conclusion. I don't much care as long as the sound does change (whatever the cause).

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  5. #79

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    How much of this is change is actually just cells vibrating and opening up enough to let the remaining moisture escape? I have always figured torrefication was just a bit more extreme way to eek some trapped moisture out of the woods cells.
    Torrefaction isn't the same as aging, and it's not about moisture content. Moisture content equalizes pretty quickly, in a few months after the tree was standing. Then the wood is going to be equalized to the ambient relative humidity. It doesn't need to get dryer to sound good. Luthiers generally avoid kiln-dried wood (which would be the way to get your wood drier than just sitting there for a few months). But torrefied wood commands higher prices from well-known makers. It's a bit of a double standard. Torrefaction forces some structural changes, basically caramelizing sugars and that sort of thing, supposed to make wood more stable, which is always a good thing if taken at face value. If it's taken too far, waterbased finishes won't adhere well, and waterbased glues (hide glue, Titebond, etc) won't work well either. Sure does make the wood look pretty, though. The suppliers I know who make torrefied ash and poplar are very clear that their decking products are NOT to be used for musical instruments under any circumstances. More torrifaction does not equal a better or more aged sounding instrument.

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  7. #80
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    Torrefaction isn't the same as aging, and it's not about moisture content. Moisture content equalizes pretty quickly, in a few months after the tree was standing. Then the wood is going to be equalized to the ambient relative humidity. It doesn't need to get dryer to sound good. Luthiers generally avoid kiln-dried wood (which would be the way to get your wood drier than just sitting there for a few months). But torrefied wood commands higher prices from well-known makers. It's a bit of a double standard. Torrefaction forces some structural changes, basically caramelizing sugars and that sort of thing, supposed to make wood more stable, which is always a good thing if taken at face value. If it's taken too far, waterbased finishes won't adhere well, and waterbased glues (hide glue, Titebond, etc) won't work well either. Sure does make the wood look pretty, though. The suppliers I know who make torrefied ash and poplar are very clear that their decking products are NOT to be used for musical instruments under any circumstances. More torrifaction does not equal a better or more aged sounding instrument.
    Thsat is good to know. Thanks. Do you know what temps they use to do this process?
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  8. #81

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    I was a torrefaction skeptic until I went looking for a J 45 with a vintage dry tone that wasn't eight grand. Played every new J 45 I could get my hands on. They all sounded too pretty. One day I found a J 45 vintage. It had the banner tone. Quite close. So close I upped my budget. Figured at the price, I would go play some 60s guitars. If I had not found my 65 Epiphone, I'd have bought the J45 vintage.
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Sound travels faster in older wood:
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...96207412000404
    Effects of aging on the vibrational properties of wood
    Author Takunori Noguchi, Eiichi Obataya, Kosei Ando
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2012.02.008
    Abstract
    Vibrational properties of aged wood (121∼296 years old) were compared with those of recently cut “new” wood (8 years old). The aged wood showed higher sound velocity (VL) and lower mechanical loss tangent (tanδL) than the new wood. The ratio of Young's modulus and shear modulus (EL/GL) remained unchanged or increased slightly during the aging period. These results coincide with musicians’ empirical observations that the acoustic quality of wooden soundboards is improved by aging. In addition, the reduced tanδL of the aged wood indicates the qualitative difference between the naturally aged and heat-treated wood. The experimental results were explained by using a cell wall model when we assumed the following: increase in the volume fraction of cellulosic microfibrils; reduction in the shear modulus of amorphous matrix substances, and; reduction in the loss tangent of the matrix. These assumptions appear reasonable when we consider the crystallization of cellulose, depolymerization of hemicelluloses, and cross-linking in the lignin complex during aging

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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    I think I have read in the following book of experiments involving observations of changes in cell walls of wood that has been exposed to sound waves. I'll try to find more info.

    The Physics of Musical Instruments
    by Neville H. Fletcher, Thomas D. Rossing
    4.45 · Rating details · 20 ratings · 3 reviews
    When we wrote the first edition of this book, we directed our presenta- tion to the reader with a compelling interest in musical instruments who has "a reasonable grasp of physics and who is not frightened by a little mathematics." We are delighted to find how many such people there are. The opportunity afforded by the preparation of this second edition has allowed us to bring our discussion up to date by including those new insights that have arisen from the work of many dedicated researchers over the past decade. We have also taken the opportunity to revise our presentation of some aspects of the subject to make it more general and, we hope, more immediately accessible. We have, of course, corrected any errors that have come to our attention, and we express our thanks to those friends who pointed out such defects in the early printings of the first edition. We hope that this book will continue to serve as a guide, both to those undertaking research in the field and to those who simply have a deep interest in the subject. June 1991 N.H.F and T.D.R. (less)

  11. #84
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by inangaman View Post
    Sound travels faster in older wood:
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...96207412000404
    Effects of aging on the vibrational properties of wood
    Author Takunori Noguchi, Eiichi Obataya, Kosei Ando
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2012.02.008
    Abstract
    Vibrational properties of aged wood (121∼296 years old) were compared with those of recently cut “new” wood (8 years old). The aged wood showed higher sound velocity (VL) and lower mechanical loss tangent (tanδL) than the new wood. The ratio of Young's modulus and shear modulus (EL/GL) remained unchanged or increased slightly during the aging period. These results coincide with musicians’ empirical observations that the acoustic quality of wooden soundboards is improved by aging. In addition, the reduced tanδL of the aged wood indicates the qualitative difference between the naturally aged and heat-treated wood. The experimental results were explained by using a cell wall model when we assumed the following: increase in the volume fraction of cellulosic microfibrils; reduction in the shear modulus of amorphous matrix substances, and; reduction in the loss tangent of the matrix. These assumptions appear reasonable when we consider the crystallization of cellulose, depolymerization of hemicelluloses, and cross-linking in the lignin complex during aging
    I cannot access the rest of the article but I see many potential flaws that make it worthless....
    First, you just cannot reliably compare different wood (old versus new) if your sample sizes are not large enough and of similar origin (think hundred or more pieces from different treess) to overcome natural variability of wood properties.
    Then there is large number of different artificial aging processes (wet, dry, with/without oxygen, temperatures/ lengths etc) and many variable parameters within each so any generalization is not possible.
    One notable violin maker (physicist in NASA in former life AFAIK) processes his wood and did lots of tests before and after and showed that speed of sound density and other parameters change differently with varying temperatures/ pressures or length of cooking and managed to find paramaters that optimize the result for his violin making (he won several medals for tone of his violins). He didn't publish exactly his process, but at least he showed that not all processes are equal.
    I did some torrefaction (gentle baking process without access of oxygen) myself starting with two identical pieces of wood (same log) and made them into two identical mandolins (the rest of wood was natural and all from same logs). I could not hear any real difference between the two. But if the baked one will be more stable (baked wood is less affected by RH) then it is worth trying.
    Adrian

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  13. #85
    Registered User Benski's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    I remember once reading somebody on the Cafe has having said: "The plural of anecdote is not data". Point worth considering in this discussion.
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  15. #86

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by inangaman View Post
    Sound travels faster in older wood:
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...96207412000404
    Effects of aging on the vibrational properties of wood
    Author Takunori Noguchi, Eiichi Obataya, Kosei Ando
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2012.02.008
    Abstract
    Vibrational properties of aged wood (121∼296 years old) were compared with those of recently cut “new” wood (8 years old). The aged wood showed higher sound velocity (VL) and lower mechanical loss tangent (tanδL) than the new wood. The ratio of Young's modulus and shear modulus (EL/GL) remained unchanged or increased slightly during the aging period. These results coincide with musicians’ empirical observations that the acoustic quality of wooden soundboards is improved by aging. In addition, the reduced tanδL of the aged wood indicates the qualitative difference between the naturally aged and heat-treated wood. The experimental results were explained by using a cell wall model when we assumed the following: increase in the volume fraction of cellulosic microfibrils; reduction in the shear modulus of amorphous matrix substances, and; reduction in the loss tangent of the matrix. These assumptions appear reasonable when we consider the crystallization of cellulose, depolymerization of hemicelluloses, and cross-linking in the lignin complex during aging
    An interesting area of study for sure. Since the article is paywalled, I can't/didn't read it, but I also see these studies which make the relationship statement about the empirical observations a little less clear. You can read them for yourselves here:


    https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...96207415000266
    https://www.research-collection.ethz...h-47394-02.pdf
    https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/f...tr113/ch04.pdf

    The last study mentions speed of sound in particular: "The speed of sound decreases with increasing temperature or moisture content in proportion to the influence of these variables on modulus of elasticity and density. The speed of sound decreases slightly with increasing frequency and amplitude of vibration, although for most common applications this effect is too small to be significant. There is no recognized independent effect of species on the speed of sound. Variability in the speed of sound in wood is directly related to the variability of modulus of elasticity and density."

    None of the articles mentioned the relationship, if any, of speed of sound and tone, although one wouldn't expect FPL to be studying that area

    Remember the word 'coincidence' in the summary.
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  16. #87
    Front Porch & Sweet Tea NursingDaBlues's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Many years ago, I was involved in a fundraiser where a “super group” was put together for a one time performance. Leading professional musicians from popular area bands/groups were selected to participate. The drummer was a percussionist with the primary symphony orchestra. I’ll not forget at a break during one of the rehearsals, the bass player accompanied by the keyboardist and a member of the horn section said to me: “That guy is a great percussionist; but he ain’t no drummer.”** Some folks may be technically proficient with their playing, but somehow they miss the boat in delivering the soul of the music that they may be playing. (**Please recognize that I'm not lumping all symphony percussionists into this category. It was simply that this percussionist was technically very good, but wasn't "feeling" the music.)

    There are technical folks and there are creative folks. The creative people feel things differently than those who have a technical lean. They think differently. They experience life differently. They hear things differently. That’s what separates those artists whose names we all know, and recognize, and respect from the rest of us.

    For the creative folks, science is irrelevant. Technical data, well, that’s meaningless. Because what they hear, we will never hear. Because it’s all in their heart, their mind, and their soul. If a creative person picks up a mandolin, and it sounds better than it did yesterday, then that’s what he/she hears. And whatever they hear should not be denied. Because if it brings that creative person joy, then that joy may be channeled into creating music that we all can appreciate.

    So to argue with a creative person that what they hear is wrong…well that’s doing a disservice to their creative spirit. They hear what they hear. And for that I’m glad.
    Last edited by NursingDaBlues; Oct-25-2019 at 2:39pm. Reason: Clarification

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  18. #88

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    'Another thread with bunch of half deaf old geezers arguing about tone .....
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by grandcanyonminstrel View Post
    'Another thread with bunch of half deaf old geezers arguing about tone .....
    Nice of you to join
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  22. #90

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Nice of you to join
    Hey, at least it's a club with no membership fees which all of us get to join... :-)

  23. #91
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    Hey, at least it's a club with no membership fees which all of us get to join... :-)
    Speak for yourself
    I hear vast changes of Tone over time in my mandolins. Age of string, r.h., ambient temp., sun, moon, mood, joy, all contributed to the tone I can generate.
    Aged mandolins are better, mine definitely sound betters than they started, and I'm a better picker, they kinda go hand on hand.
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Sorry to hear that other folks' mandolins don't get better with age. i've had a few of those, but the one i've kept was bought new and there's no question that the tone has changed for the better. It's hard to debate the last 4 notes of the G strings coming into balance with the other strings and the D strings calming down also. John Hamlett noticed the G strings before it even got out of the case.

    And about the comment that there's no membership fee. Well, yes and no. Joining a forum has always led to some serious purchases, so in my case, joining forums has always been expensive. (!)
    Last edited by dan in va; Oct-26-2019 at 5:15pm.

  25. #93
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Interesting and funny to read this thread and the past ones like it and once again the only thing I really take from it is, never buy an instrument counting on it braking in and sounding better if it doesn’t sound good at first walk away.
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  26. #94
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Hi, Everyone:

    I know the topic of this thread gets recycled every so often, but I really enjoy it each and every time. It's a fun topic. :-)

    I'll chime in to offer a qualitative perspective that has it's roots in naturalistic inquiry, which is a non-empirical style of research: phenomenology. This approach to studying something aims to determine the essence of an experience, such as the experience of hearing wood change over time. Scientific experimentation can show us things, often in very clear ways, but it is not so well-equipped to take an open-ended approach to understanding people's experiences, which then opens the door for naturalistic inquiry.

    In phenomenology, there are two assumptions: every experience has an essence, and every experiencer has an essence. What is experienced is then a combination of the two things. In it's deepest philosophical sense, there is no experience unless both essences are present. So, whatever may be physically happening to an instrument's wood over time, due to playing, or due to an aging process, while certainly relevant, isn't and won't ever be the whole reason why an instrument sounds and plays the way it does. Like, Doug alluded to, the person having the experience is a non-negotiable component of the experience, because it's that person's ears, hands, technical proficiency, memories, diet, or whatever else that influences his or her perception. The variables that impact the experience are arguably infinite, but phenomenology maintains - in this scenario - the variables are situated in the constitution of the mandolin, as well as the constitution of the perceiver. So, with this in mind, all the science is relevant, and like NursingDaBlues and Montana Matt imply, what the player or artist perceives is relevant, with or without the science.

    On a more personal note, I'd lay money on the fact that my MT2 has changed a whole lot since I got it in August. I'd argue that I play it a ton and every string change it's more crisp and more resonant, not to mention increasingly louder. Phenomenology would say I'm not wrong, and would perhaps attempt to get closer to the structure of my experience, as well as 10 other people with new mandolins, to come to a common, describable experience. It would then, at least in that moment in time, be a reliable generalization. Of course, the person doing the analysis of my experience and the other peoples' experiences is an experiencer as well, which factors into the results.

    Disclaimer: I'm currently writing a dissertation and am in the midst of analyzing the data using a phenomenological approach. Please forgive me for everything I just wrote, haha!

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  28. #95

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Years ago Frank Ford told me to always buy an instrument for what it is, never for what it might become. Sage advise.
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  29. #96
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    There has been at least one rigorous study showing that guitars played frequently (for a long period with a mechanical device, versus by real players, versus by not played at all) and substantially equivalent guitars not played were identical ("scientifically irrelevant").

    Here you go: https://www.savartjournal.org/index....rticle/view/22

    I must be a careless reader because I didn't find anything about the effects of playing the instrument. Seems to me the guitars were mecahnically vibrated at 60 Hz, approximately contra B, a fourth below the lowest note on the guitar (in classical tuning). Perhaps the most common issue in larger guitars, Dreadnoughts in particular, is a tight treble response. Most believers would say that you got to play all over the range of the instrument in order to improve response.

    There used to be a somewhat comical video on YouTube, where the enthusiastic poster hoped to demonstrate the effects of a Tonerite treatment on a somewhat darksounding Martin Dreadnought. The player stayed in open position most of the time, and I got pretty drowsy from listening. Of course I didn't hear any difference, you can't really infer anything from a recording. Except for one thing: before the treatment there was a prominent resonance on the open A string, and afterwards it seemed to have moved to the d string, a very puzzling effect, not compatible with any fashionable theory on the subject.

  30. #97
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by onassis View Post
    My distrust of the concept of "opening up" comes down to the fact that it only ever seems to operate in one direction - you never hear of instruments sounding worse over time, only better. As Adrian noted, worsening of sound is typically seen as a function of environmental factors and upkeep (strings, frets, etc). Improvements are attributed to "opening up". For me personally, I can't claim to have a fine enough ear or memory to say whether an instrument has changed significantly, or whether I've just learned how to pull a tone with it that I enjoy even more.
    The general assumption is that material that has been vibrated a lot at certain frequencies tends to vibrate more readily at these frequencies. In the case of musical instruments we speak of improved respons. Sometimes this phenomen is described as, or attributed to, a mild case of material fatigue.

    Responsivity, at any rate, is very real to the player, he/she feels it. "Sound" or "tone", on the other hand, is a very elusive concept. An instrument is not a tone generator, it's a tool for making music, and much of what we describe as "tone" or a musiclan's ability to "pull tone" usually is something else. My impression of "tone" in my own instruments is largely determined by subjective factors. Just one example: if I've been away from my instruments for some time, I note an improved depth and complexity to their sounds; but the effect wears off in an hour or two. Familiarity blunts the senses.

    As for responsivity, I'v e never noted such improvement in my mandolins, possibly because that's not as big a deal as it is in guitars. Guitars have very pronounced resonance patterns, some notes stand out, whereas others decay very rapidly. My impression in at least two of my guitars is that these patterns became less pronounced after a year or so of playing. Also I noted a tempering of overtones - overtone resonances can be pretty annoying in bigger guitars, especially rosewood dreadnoughts.

    Al Carruth attempted several years ago to chart these phenomena in a small sample of guitars (I don't know the practical details), by measuring their frequency response patterns. What he found was "broader and taller peaks", also a lowering of the fundamental top frequency. The latter observation may very well acount for the impression of looser, more ready, response. And that certainly does not come from increased familiarity or improved technique; whatever adaption takes place when switching from one instrument to another is almost instant to an experienced player. Inert is inert, loose is loose.

    Of course I've never let such considerations or expectations guide my choice of axe. All my six instruments were bought by mail order, and all but two were custom built.

  31. #98
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    How much of this is change is actually just cells vibrating and opening up enough to let the remaining moisture escape? I have always figured torrefication was just a bit more extreme way to eek some trapped moisture out of the woods cells.
    John, not to discount this completely, but almost exactly the same discussion occurs frequently regarding METAL PARTS among pre-war banjo enthusiasts (tone rings, tension hoops and flanges) and among pre-war Dobro enthusiasts (cones, spiders, cover plates), except it's not about moisture for them, it's about crystallization.

    Personally, I've played and heard a lot of great old and new mandolins, guitars, double basses, banjos and Dobros (not to mention pianos, horns and woodwinds), and I'm not convinced that age and/or playing time makes a huge difference in tone or volume.

    My opinion is that given instruments that are properly designed and setup for the task, the player's touch is what makes the biggest difference.
    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

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  32. #99

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    The absence of a uniform base line sample group pretty much negates the possibility of a true scientific experiment. Each piece of wood is unique, and if one mandolin sounds different than another of the exact model when new, it is not far fetched to suggest a non uniform aging pattern too. So that leaves us with our own perception, a shaky premise at best. Here I sit with a mandolin that is a year old. My memory recollection tells me it is a warmer more resonant mandolin now. But there has been real science done on how fleeting auditory memory is.

    So I remember being slightly disappointed in the low end a year ago, and not now, but self delusion is another subject entirely.
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  33. #100
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    really not sure, can't prove or disprove, but , I do believe a guitar gets batter with timeand I am sure a new banjo soumds like a new banjo

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