Locked-up lock-down valves

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Restrictions are easing and soon some of us will again be playing again with our Band mates. So I dusted off ‘my’ Big Bass’s Case and opened it up ready to play, gave it a blast and heard the ‘joyous noise’ echo around the house. BUT, what’s this, my valves won’t work, the instrument is solid. “Oh bother” I said, well it was something like that.

I have practiced over the lockdowns, honest, but it’s about a year since I played with other folk using the proper Bass. I’ve being using a little Bass of my own ‘cause it’s light, an easy blow and just a little quieter than the Band’s beastie - it’s still pretty dam loud if you push it though.

The Beastie Bass now has freed-up valves and thankfully the slides weren’t too stiff. Lots of oil and firm finger pressure were all that was needed, honestly that’s the case. However plan ‘b’, which I thankfully didn’t need, was to: remove individual valve finger buttons, cover the stem with a thin piece of (sacrificial) wood and very lightly tap (downwards) with a small pin type hammer. Of course it’s just a guess but just a few mm of downward release movement from a single tap is enough to see the valve button screwed back on and a chance to carefully pull the valve back up and get more oil worked in via repetitive movement. In hindsight removing the valve base covers and adding oil from that end too would be a wise move.

I’m fortunate in not having to have used my plan ‘b’ and in being just experienced enough to be able to do such things if needed, but really some jobs are best left to professionals .... Never, ever, force anything and never work too far outside your skill set ‘cause you’ll likely be unlucky and damage something. Whatever, the moral of this tale is get your unused instruments out now and go over them to ensure that they still work.
 
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pbirch

Active Member
Restrictions are easing and soon some of us will again be playing again with our Band mates. So I dusted off ‘my’ Big Bass’s Case and opened it up ready to play, gave it a blast and heard the ‘joyous noise’ echo around the house. BUT, what’s this, my valves won’t work, the instrument is solid. “Oh bother” I said, well it was something like that.

I have practiced over the lockdowns, honest, but it’s about a year since I played with other folk using the proper Bass. I’ve being using a little Bass of my own ‘cause it’s light, an easy blow and just a little quieter than the Band’s beastie - it’s still pretty dam loud if you push it though.

The Beastie Bass now has freed-up valves and thankfully the slides weren’t too stiff. Lots of oil and firm finger pressure were all that was needed, honestly that’s the case. However plan ‘b’, which I thankfully didn’t need, was to: remove individual valve finger buttons, cover the stem with a thin piece of (sacrificial) wood and very lightly tap (downwards) with a small pin type hammer. Of course it’s just a guess but just a few mm of downward release movement from a single tap is enough to see the valve button screwed back on and a chance to carefully pull the valve back up and get more oil worked in via repetitive movement. In hindsight removing the valve base covers and adding oil from that end too would be a wise move.

I’m fortunate in not having to have used my plan ‘b’ and in being just experienced enough to be able to do such things if needed, but really some jobs are best left to professionals .... Never, ever, force anything and never work too far outside your skill set ‘cause you’ll likely be unlucky and damage something. Whatever, the moral of this tale is get your unused instruments out now and go over them to ensure that they still work.
I am reminded of the story of an engineer who started an engine with a tap of a hammer, and charged £5 for hitting it and £5000 for knowing where to hit it!
a repairer will charge for a post lockdown service, but will be less than repair costs for botched attempts to get the instruments going
 

GordonH

Active Member
Restrictions are easing and soon some of us will again be playing again with our Band mates. So I dusted off ‘my’ Big Bass’s Case and opened it up ready to play, gave it a blast and heard the ‘joyous noise’ echo around the house. BUT, what’s this, my valves won’t work, the instrument is solid. “Oh bother” I said, well it was something like that.

I have practiced over the lockdowns, honest, but it’s about a year since I played with other folk using the proper Bass. I’ve being using a little Bass of my own ‘cause it’s light, an easy blow and just a little quieter than the Band’s beastie - it’s still pretty dam loud if you push it though.

The Beastie Bass now has freed-up valves and thankfully the slides weren’t too stiff. Lots of oil and firm finger pressure were all that was needed, honestly that’s the case. However plan ‘b’, which I thankfully didn’t need, was to: remove individual valve finger buttons, cover the stem with a thin piece of (sacrificial) wood and very lightly tap (downwards) with a small pin type hammer. Of course it’s just a guess but just a few mm of downward release movement from a single tap is enough to see the valve button screwed back on and a chance to carefully pull the valve back up and get more oil worked in via repetitive movement. In hindsight removing the valve base covers and adding oil from that end too would be a wise move.

I’m fortunate in not having to have used my plan ‘b’ and in being just experienced enough to be able to do such things if needed, but really some jobs are best left to professionals .... Never, ever, force anything and never work too far outside your skill set ‘cause you’ll likely be unlucky and damage something. Whatever, the moral of this tale is get your unused instruments out now and go over them to ensure that they still work.
This is surprising given that the clearance between the outer casing and the valve in a tuba is large compared to smaller brass instruments. My guess is there was an existing issue with debris, corrosion or mineral deposits.
I had this with a euphonium once that had been in storage. I took the valve buttons and top caps off, put valve oil down inside the casings and allowed it to soak in by keeping the instrument vertical. I did this a couple of times over a few days and then used finger pressure to push the piston from underneath. A tuba is going to be a lot harder because the valves are so much longer and there is more material to grip the sides.
If it was mine I would try oiling it and if that failed get it to a repairer.
I have seen this being fixed before. You probably don't want to watch. As the other poster said, its knowing where to hit it so you won't cause damage.
 

Mello

Active Member
I find it very sad that some players have not bothered to practice during lockdown but even worse ....if that was their intention , they didnt bother putting their instrument in storage mode.
The old maxim If I miss a days practice I can tell - miss 2 days - my colleagues can tell . - iss 3 days and Everybody can tell. is a good one but even better is another maxim If you Dont use it , you will Lose it which can apply to embouchure or /and instrument. I always used to put my horns in storage mode when not expecting to play for a while ( hols etc) Every detachable part is taken off and also dismantled eg. Every valve had the tops & bottom caps wiped cleaned and vaseline spread on the threads even on the outer valve casing threads. the springs Valve guides , Corks or pads dried and wrapped separately , The valve ports cleaned and a light oil applied then each valve and its 'set of bits' were ) wrapped together in Bubble wrap and marked V1 or V2 etc . Each slide prepared and packed etc if there is a shank such as with some sops ....that too. I have an instrument even now in the loft which I guarantee would be in perfect order within 1/2 hr. The initial packing procedure takes longer but its worth it. Ah well , some folk do and others dont.....just hope any problems due to neglect are not instruments belonging to a band ....they deserve better.

PS I have even known some players , specially Bassists leave their m/piece in their instrument. !! ending up trying to tap it out with a mallet ! or at best a trip to the repairer for the old m/p extractor. Sermon over !!
 

GordonH

Active Member
I find it very sad that some players have not bothered to practice during lockdown but even worse ....if that was their intention , they didnt bother putting their instrument in storage mode.
The old maxim If I miss a days practice I can tell - miss 2 days - my colleagues can tell . - iss 3 days and Everybody can tell. is a good one but even better is another maxim If you Dont use it , you will Lose it which can apply to embouchure or /and instrument. I always used to put my horns in storage mode when not expecting to play for a while ( hols etc) Every detachable part is taken off and also dismantled eg. Every valve had the tops & bottom caps wiped cleaned and vaseline spread on the threads even on the outer valve casing threads. the springs Valve guides , Corks or pads dried and wrapped separately , The valve ports cleaned and a light oil applied then each valve and its 'set of bits' were ) wrapped together in Bubble wrap and marked V1 or V2 etc . Each slide prepared and packed etc if there is a shank such as with some sops ....that too. I have an instrument even now in the loft which I guarantee would be in perfect order within 1/2 hr. The initial packing procedure takes longer but its worth it. Ah well , some folk do and others dont.....just hope any problems due to neglect are not instruments belonging to a band ....they deserve better.

PS I have even known some players , specially Bassists leave their m/piece in their instrument. !! ending up trying to tap it out with a mallet ! or at best a trip to the repairer for the old m/p extractor. Sermon over !!
He did say he had been practicing on a different instrument. I just keep my spares well oiled and lubricated using oils that are less likely to dry out. Never had a problem.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
The cut and paste arrangement for responding to Gordon’s and Mello’s posts proved unwieldy so on this occasion it’s simplest just to address a few points and then to move on.

The valve clearances on the Band’s Beasty Tuba (a lovely Sovereign) are tight by design, they give a good air tight seal and are normally very rapid in movement but they do require care and attention to keep them free. In contrast my own small Tuba is a slightly older instrument with more clearance between the valves and casings. I’ve had the little one for some years now but when I bought it it was in a very poor state and it took effort and use to get the valves ‘flying’ up and down.

Having chatted to a few other Band members I’m far from alone in letting things slip and in good company on the road to restoration of skills and equipment. Yes, the old maxims quoted by Mello are very true, but how applicable they are to recreational players in these extraordinary times I wouldn’t like to say. Yes, the Beasty Tuba should have had lots of storage prep done on it rather than trust that it would exit its case in the perfect working order that it entered it. Of course professional and more experienced players would know better, however many of us are neither professionals or people with a few decades of instrument care experience behind us: my original post was aimed at that large and ‘lesser’ group of players. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Like many others I never anticipate - what has successively developed to become - over a year of neither Band practices or performances, and like many other people life has simply diverted my attention to more pressing matters - of which there have been plenty.

Brass practice is something that I’ve tried to keep going during the lockdown and I’m fortunate in living somewhere where my practice won’t disturb others, but not everybody else is that fortunate and obviously that complicates matters for that group of people. My own practice has been shorter than usual but enough to not get too ‘rusty’ and, without the need to be on (my) ‘top’ form for playing with the Band, I’ve used some (of the released) time to learn other useful things. Of course, like so many other players, I’ve found it hard to stay fully motivated and like many other individuals I’ve found the lockdown to be both a difficult to manage and grinding burden. Anyway, as I said at the end of my original post, it’s time to get your instruments out and to get ready to play again: “the moral of this tale is get your unused instruments out now and go over them to ensure that they still work”.
 
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Mello

Active Member
I am certainly not disagreeing with the good folk who have posted on this subject .In fact the prime reason for my posting was to draw attention to inexperienced and casual players , that Storage can create many problems which can be avoided by simply storing them carefully. I know when I was a youngster , Dad used to go mad when bass m/pieces were left in the bass ....in the bandroom . Aside from storage other pet hates of his ( & mine) was 'stuck slides' which hadnt moved for years in some cases ....making tuning adjustments nigh on impossible and the fact that brute force would result in half the slide being left in situ and the player with a one legged slide in his hand. I was also taught to loosen the valve caps top & bottom after playing .... not only did that ensure one could remove the valve easily , ( for replacing pads etc ) but it eased the tension on the springs....so that they dont weaken and last in good condition for years , or in my case the life of my instrument ...honestly, I never had to replace a set of springs -- ever, so I have no reason to doubt that one . There are other tips I was given ...re cleaning out an instrument ....but that can be a thorny issue. so perhaps another time.....else I will be branded a Know All again.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
.... There are other tips I was given ...re cleaning out an instrument ....but that can be a thorny issue. so perhaps another time.....else I will be branded a Know All again.

IMHO anyone that brands you a ‘know all’ either actually understands that you’ve a wealth of knowledge or is simply being deliberately silly. Most people have no time for the later mentioned type of person but, to be fair, it does take some time for members to realise that you really have ‘walked the walk’ as a long term professional musician. Having been brought up in a brass banding family must also have given you particular insights into our hobby too - sometimes people are surprised that the knowledge that they take for granted is complete news to other people.

Sadly TMP has little traffic on it these days, so few eyes view its wealth of content, but if you have time and inclination to record your tips here then please do. Likewise any other member who has anything constructive to add. I still drop in from time to time and others do too; Google searches also bring up content here so whether it be tomorrow, next week, next month or next year someone will be pleased to hear what you have to say.

Over the years I’ve certainly learnt a lot from this site; and when the information desired wasn’t obvious then this site has also pointed me in the right direction to find my solution some other way. If I’m struggling with something then occasional I’ll send a pm to an expert, perhaps I’ve been lucky but in my experience established members here always seem most helpful to each other.
 
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Mello

Active Member
d
IMHO anyone that brands you a ‘know all’ either actually understands that you’ve a wealth of knowledge or is simply being deliberately silly. Most people have no time for the later mentioned type of person but, to be fair, it does take some time for members to realise that you really have ‘walked the walk’ as a long term professional musician. Having been brought up in a brass banding family must also have given you particular insights into our hobby too - sometimes people are surprised that the knowledge that they take for granted is complete news to other people.

Sadly TMP has little traffic on it these days, so few eyes view its wealth of content, but if you have time and inclination to record your tips here then please do. Likewise any other member who has anything constructive to add. I still drop in from time to time and others do too; Google searches also bring up content here so whether it be tomorrow, next week, next month or next year someone will be pleased to hear what you have to say.

Over the years I’ve certainly learnt a lot from this site; and when the information desired wasn’t obvious then this site has also pointed me in the right direction to find my solution some other way. If I’m struggling with something then occasional I’ll send a pm to an expert, perhaps I’ve been lucky but in my experience established members here always seem most helpful to each other.
Sorry 2nd Tenor Thank you for your kind words . much appreciated but I got sniped at too many times , so stopped posting, although I helped a few folk via pms. I do check occasionally , to see what is happening. Its true I had a decent playing career and have over 40yrs teaching experience in some of our best music institutions. I know that doesn't mean I know anything about instrument manufacture or repair. However I did receive some in depth training from the Yamaha head technicians,in the UK & Japan, before being 'let loose' to talk about such things in public.
It is a pity the traffic on TMP has dwindled so much, such a shame. I dont know the reason ...other my own , so cannot comment further.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
"I have even known some players , specially Bassists leave their m/piece in their instrument. !! ending up trying to tap it out with a mallet ! or at best a trip to the repairer for the old m/p extractor. Sermon over !!"
There's a tenor horn on Ebay at the moment; seller points out that it has a few minor dents - which it does - but one 'dent' on the lead pipe puzzled me, as I couldn't see how it could been hit in a way to cause that long a dent, and in such a place . . . until the penny dropped. It's not a dent, it's a twist, several inches long, caused by somebody trying to extract a stuck mouthpiece with brute force and a pair of . . . pliers? Mole grips? A Stillson wrench? Who knows?

I don't know how much it will affect the playing of that horn, but what's an absolute certainty is that the cost of repairing it would be many times what it would have cost to get a repair shop to get the mouthpiece out - or even to buy one of those proper mouthpiece extractors. It wouldn't surprise me if the cost of repairing or replacing the twisted lead pipe would be dearer than buying another instrument.

I remember the first time I felt the metal of the bell on a baritone between the tip of my finger and thumb - and being astonished at how thin it was. Talk about 'Handle with Care'!

With best regards,
Jack E
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Having got the Band’s Tuba going again (for preference I normally play my own smaller one) it was left to one side safe in the knowledge that the valves, etc were all oiled and ready for use. Fast forward some months and I was astonished to find the valves solid again ... left me scratching my head in puzzlement.

I stripped the valves down again and this time removed the bottom caps too. What I noticed was ring like build ups, at each end of the valve case bores - much more at the base than the top - of calcium like crud, and that build up was causing/helping things to bind. They are very close tolerance valves. I’ve removed much of the crud and will revisit the rest at some point, but very carefully. The crud must not be removed by anything with abrasive in it, so it’s a case of carefully scrapping the crud away and carefully not removing any metal. The ‘calcium’ build up is a new one on me -most unexpected - but now the valves are flying up and down again :)
 

pbirch

Active Member
Having got the Band’s Tuba going again (for preference I normally play my own smaller one) it was left to one side safe in the knowledge that the valves, etc were all oiled and ready for use. Fast forward some months and I was astonished to find the valves solid again ... left me scratching my head in puzzlement.

I stripped the valves down again and this time removed the bottom caps too. What I noticed was ring like build ups, at each end of the valve case bores - much more at the base than the top - of calcium like crud, and that build up was causing/helping things to bind. They are very close tolerance valves. I’ve removed much of the crud and will revisit the rest at some point, but very carefully. The crud must not be removed by anything with abrasive in it, so it’s a case of carefully scrapping the crud away and carefully not removing any metal. The ‘calcium’ build up is a new one on me -most unexpected - but now the valves are flying up and down again :)
my old repair guy had 2 solutions for this, (1) to soak the valves in warm water with washing soda crystals, and (2) to us an ultrasonic jewellery cleaner (one big enough to accommodate tuba valves), and he would charge an extra couple of £s for that
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
my old repair guy had 2 solutions for this, (1) to soak the valves in warm water with washing soda crystals, and (2) to us an ultrasonic jewellery cleaner (one big enough to accommodate tuba valves), and he would charge an extra couple of £s for that
I'm not surprised he charged extra for that; I've just done a quick internet search, and the price of a 9 litre ultrasonic bath is over £1400 - so I shudder to think about the cost of one big enough to take a tuba!

With best regards,
Jack
 

pbirch

Active Member
I'm not surprised he charged extra for that; I've just done a quick internet search, and the price of a 9 litre ultrasonic bath is over £1400 - so I shudder to think about the cost of one big enough to take a tuba!

With best regards,
Jack
Oh gosh, he didn’t have one like that, it a jewellery cleaner (about £40) and he would do 1 valve at a time. I do have to say he was a good guy with a a great deal of honesty and integrity
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
Oh gosh, he didn’t have one like that, it a jewellery cleaner (about £40) and he would do 1 valve at a time. I do have to say he was a good guy with a a great deal of honesty and integrity.

Doh!.jpg


Note to self - always engage brain before hitting keyboard, Jack . . .
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
my old repair guy had 2 solutions for this, (1) to soak the valves in warm water with washing soda crystals, and (2) to us an ultrasonic jewellery cleaner (one big enough to accommodate tuba valves), and he would charge an extra couple of £s for that

Washing Soda takes me back to when I was a teenage Lad and had my first Tuba. It was old and I washing and bushes it out using a solution of washing Soda plus a couple of two gallon buckets. Seemed a good idea at the time and a lot of muck came out if it.

The valve bodies themselves weren’t too bad at all, not much to see really but the casings’ ends is where the bulk of the build-up had settled - I really didn’t expect to see anything in the casings. Easy enough to scrap away the deposits with something suitable that’s not going to damage the valve casing or valve.

Getting access to a good brass repair guy is hard. My local guy retired a while back and the guy that I really like to use is quite a distance a way.
 
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trumpetb

Member
The question about why valves that are lubricated and then they set solid after a short time of storage undisturbed, is a tough one to answer and i do not pretend to know the answer to this but I can have a stab at it if you dont mind a little speculation.

First a few observations.

Some valves have relatively tight tolerances and these can be problematic to keep the valves running smoothly in normal use.

Sometimes small amounts of debris can build up on the surface of valves and this is likely to be accelerated if the valves are not used often.

Valve oils do vary in makeup and often contain more than one oil as a mixture to reach precisely the desired viscosity along with other additives.

The lighter fractions or oils in the mixture may evaporate over time leaving behind the heavier oils.

Put all that together and you finish up with a light oil than thickens over time allowing any debris to gather and it is possible that the oil might become something resembling a gum and this could then block the free running of the valve or even cause it to seize n the chamber until freed up cleaned and oiled afresh.

I have experienced this phenomenon myself but I do not yet know the true cause of it. I did find it surprising at the time.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
The question about why valves that are lubricated and then they set solid after a short time of storage undisturbed, is a tough one to answer and i do not pretend to know the answer to this but I can have a stab at it if you dont mind a little speculation.

First a few observations. Valve oils do vary in makeup and often contain more than one oil as a mixture to reach precisely the desired viscosity along with other additives. The lighter fractions or oils in the mixture may evaporate over time leaving behind the heavier oils. Put all that together and you finish up with a light oil than thickens over time allowing any debris to gather and it is possible that the oil might become something resembling a gum and this could then block the free running of the valve or even cause it to seize in the chamber until freed up cleaned and oiled afresh. I have experienced this phenomenon myself but I do not yet know the true cause of it. I did find it surprising at the time.

That's exactly what happens, trumpetb. I used to work as a support tech for a company making synthetic oils for the food and pharma industries, and that 'turning to gum' is a common problem with mineral oils which are exposed to a combination of moisture, warmth and bacteria. In fact, one gearbox I saw in a water treatment plant in Cornwall had what appeared to be a long thin dribble of varnish leaking out of a gearbox, running down into the catch tray underneath. When I touched it, however, it was solid - like a stalactite made of varnish!

The gearbox was directly above a tank of water on the intake side of the plant. The roof was transparent corrugated plastic, and for most of the day, the tank was being warmed by the sun shining through the roof, so the air above it tended to be moist. The gearbox was also being warmed the same way, and as the air pressure built up inside, some air was pushed out through an exhaust port fitted with a fine mesh filter. At night, everything cooled down, and air was drawn into the gearbox through the exhaust port - bringing with it both moist air and various bacteria. And guess what the bacteria found inside the box? A combination of carbon and hydrogen - which is just what they like to eat! It was actually worse than it would have been with a conventional mineral oil, as - because of the proximity of the gearbox to the water - the project engineer who built the plant had specified a mineral ester oil (the type used as brake fluid in your car). Problem was that the gearbox (volume about one and a half cubic feet) contained a lot more air than a brake master cylinder, but unlike a master cylinder, it didn't have an air-tight bellows seal which could cope with changing pressure. So, every night as it cooled down, it pulled in more and more of the little bugs and beasties which eat oil - and the 'poop' they leave behind is varnish! This breakdown of the oil totally trashed the gearbox bearings, seals and gears. Admittedly, it happened a lot faster with the ester gearbox oil in use, but the same process would have happened to any mineral oil in the end; it just would have taken longer.

So, what happens when you play your brass instrument, with mineral oil lubricated valves? You blow warm, moist air, laden with bacteria, right through them - and at least some of the bacteria will think "Yummy - grub up!", and tuck in, with the inevitable results . . .

I clean, wipe dry, and oil my gear once a week, so the oil isn't in there long enough to break down; if your instrument is not being used, so no exhaled air is going through it, the oil breakdown will take longer - but it will still happen in the end.

As an aside, the gearbox oil that I recommended the water works to change to was one of our fully synthetic ones - for the record, a poly-alpha-olefin - which was as inert as PTFE, and totally inedible by the oil bugs. Despite the gearbox running 24/7/365, both the oil and the gearbox lasted for years, and far longer than the gearbox makers' warranty - and the oil never needed changing. The price per litre in 1987 was about £12 a litre - many times the cost of a typical gearbox oil - but South West Water felt that the benefits it gave them, in terms of gearbox life and no down-time, made it a bargain.

Re. the hard crusty layer that tends to build up at the bottom of the valve block, I had a very interesting discussion with a repair man from John Packer's about this, which I'd found on a tenor horn bought off Ebay. He said this comes from the spit which inevitably gets into the valves when you play. One of the constituents of spit is calcium, and (as pointed out by my dentist) when your teeth are due for brushing, if you rub the tip of your tongue over the inside of your bottom front teeth, you can feel that slight roughness which is a build up of calcium. According to Packer's repair man, as gravity tends to move the spit downwards, it collect inside the valve block at around the bottom of the valve travel, the water evaporates off, leaving the calcium behind.

Thinking about the days when used to overhaul my two-stroke motorbikes, and had to scrape off the carbon build up from the piston crown (especially if previous owner had used engine oil in the fuel, rather than a pukka two-stroke oil), it strikes me that the same 'weapon of crud destruction' might prove useful; I used a piece of wood sharpened to a chisel edge. I found a reputable brand of pencil did the job very well (Staedtler are the bees' knees), without harming the very soft alloy piston at all. Cheapo pencils always seem to be made of soft and fluffy wood, as you can see when you try to sharpen them, and they just go all ragged rather than cut clean.

HTH, and best regards to all,
Jack
 

trumpetb

Member
That was a great read Jack packed with really useful information and very entertaining as well. Thanks as well for the very well written confirmation of my puny musings.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
You're welcome, trumpetb - now do me a favour, and stop putting yourself down!
With best regards,
Jack
 

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