Roundup: Six Fender American Professional Series Guitars - GuitarPlayer.com

Roundup: Six Fender American Professional Series Guitars

It’s a whopping 30 years since Fender introduced the American Standard Series, and given how significantly tastes, playing preferences and musical styles have shifted since 1987, it’s clearly time for something new.
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It’s a whopping 30 years since Fender introduced the American Standard Series, and given how significantly tastes, playing preferences and musical styles have shifted since 1987, it’s clearly time for something new. In its updates of four seminal guitar styles and two basses, the range incorporates 92 instruments in all—including all configurations and color options—and intends to present the state of the art in affordable American-made, professional-grade instruments rendered with a hefty bundle of specifications that players have distinguished as clear favorites in recent years. Since the guitar range has several features in common, let’s look at some of the universal specs before diving in on the six individual guitars under review.

All American Professional guitar necks have a new “Deep-C” profile, which adds just a little girth to the feel without being at all clubby. Personally I love it, and I think it’s a very easy shape for most guitarists to get along with. All guitars have 22 narrow-tall frets, a good grip of strings for easier bending, and carry Fender’s Bi-Flex dual-action trussrod with a subtle and easily accessible head-stock-end adjustment point. Although different models have their own historic headstock shapes, all are of the early, smaller “classic” designs. The neck joint is the four-bolt type, with micro-tilt adjustment through the plate. Fingerboards all have a 9.5" radius. The nuts throughout the series have been upgraded to genuine bone, at a width of 1.685" (1 11/16"), giving a little more room to roam than the traditional Fender 1 5/8". Enclosed modern tuners with staggered posts grace all headstocks.

Fender has developed a new V-Mod pickup series for the range, which seeks to blend the best of vintage tone with some modern performance characteristics. Each model clearly has its own style of pickup within this series, as is traditional, while humbucker-loaded guitars have Fender’s Shawbuckers. Electronics include a treble-bleed network to keep highs crisp when you turn down the Volume control. All guitars also come with Fender’s new Elite Molded case.

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AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL TELECASTER

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It all started with Leo’s original single-cutaway, plank-bodied electric, so the American Professional Telecaster makes a good place to begin this exploration of the new lineup. As much as any Tele fanatic might drool over a vintage-style creation in dead-stock form, most guitarists who ply their trade on a Telecaster will readily admit that plenty of minor modifications to components and specifications can help to make it a more effective instrument. That’s much of the thinking behind this rendition; in its early-’50s-hued Butterscotch Blonde finish it captures the appeal of an early Tele, and there’s nothing much to dent the vintage-style tone either, but from bridge to neck to tuners to electronics, Fender has updated plenty to make it a more versatile performer.

The basic form of the guitar needs no introduction. The body of this one is made from ash with an appealing grain and a very reasonable weight. I’m told it’s a two-piece construction, but since I can’t find a seam, it looks for all the world like a one-piece body. The solid-maple neck’s 22 frets and the more convenient head-stock-end trussrod adjustment point don’t especially hamper the ’50s esthetic. The neck feels great in the hand, and the guitar sports an extremely confident setup right out of the case. Particularly noteworthy among the upgrades is the new bridge design, which includes a bridge plate that is cutaway for more comfortable right-hand damping, front-edge anchor screws to fight microphonic feedback, and three compensated brass saddles for precise intonation. One element of personal taste: mounting the neck pickup to the pickguard clearly offers easier height-adjustment access, but I am rather fond of the look of the vintage-style mount to the body, which leaves no height screws visible.

Plugged in, this thing is classic Telecaster—go figure—yet with an acknowledged propensity toward a girthsome bridge-pickup tone that can rock out just as confidently as it twangs. Through the semi-cranked AC15-style combo there was plenty of lively harmonic chime within that voice, but an appealingly warm and beefy coloration too when I dug in, with no hint of spikiness even with both knobs full up. Point it at the Marshall with gain dialed up, and this 7.22kΩ bridge pickup partners with the Tele’s characteristically impressive through-body-strung sustain to release a veritable lead monster. For all that, though, dial down the firepower and switch to the neck pickup (a traditional 5.92kΩ) and this guitar is enjoyably warm, rich, and tactile for anything from straight-up jazz to pop balladry. A solid Telecaster by any standards, and an extremely likeable blend of old and new.

SPECIFICATIONS

AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL TELECASTER

CONTACT fender.com
PRICE $1,499 street (with ash body upgrade, $1399 with alder body)
NUT WIDTH 1.685"
NECK Maple, 25.5" scale
FRETBOARD Maple, 9.5" radius
FRETS 22 narrow-tall
TUNERS Diecast Fender staggered-post tuners
BODY Ash
BRIDGE New Telecaster design with compensated brass saddles
PICKUPS Two V-Mod single-coil Telecaster pickups
CONTROLS Master Volume and Tone controls, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Fender USA 250L, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.5 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS A well-crafted re-think of the classic Telecaster, with plenty of vintage twang onboard but a little extra gusto besides.
CONCERNS None.

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AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL STRATOCASTER HSS SHAWBUCKER

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The HSS Shawbucker comes in Fender’s new Antique Olive, an extremely appealing color that, depending on the light, migrates between a dark green-ish gray and a lively forest green, and which is set off nicely by the three-ply parchment pickguard. The rosewood fingerboard is of a medium-brown color, and the neck plays just as smoothly as did the Telecaster’s, although the fret ends could arguably use just a little more polishing on this one.

The vibrato bridge is Fender’s two-point system for reduced friction, and it does offer an extremely smooth feel with this standard factory setup with about 3/32” of tip-up. I like the vintage bent-steel saddles on these, rather than the die-cast block saddles that were a hallmark of the earlier American Standards for many years—both because they preserve the classic look and induce a certain sonic zing that enhances even contemporary Strat tones. Also, the push-in arm is a real bonus, helping to avoid slop in the unit’s action.

The V-Mod single-coil neck pickup measures 6kΩ and has a mix of Alnico III poles beneath the unwound strings and Alnico II under the wound ones, while the middle position substitutes Alnico V under the plain strings and measures 6.35kΩ. The Shawbucker in the bridge position reads 7.12kΩ, hinting at good clarity and snap for a humbucker. Created for Fender by former Gibson engineer Tim Shaw, this pickup is a descendant of the humbuckers he designed in 1980 for the ES-335 reissue of the time, which has since been widely regarded as one of Gibson’s most vintage-correct sounding humbuckers since the original PAFs of the late ’50s and early ’60s. It’s all wired through the popular contemporary layout of master Volume and two Tones, with one Tone control shared by the neck and middle pickups and another for the bridge pickup alone, plus a 5-way switch. The hidden secret here is a double-ganged potentiometer that routes the bridge humbucker through a 500kΩ pot and the single coils through a 250kΩ pot, keeping optimal high-end content intact for each.

I was impressed by one of Fender’s first iterations of a Shawbucker Stratocaster in 2015, and this one further reinforces the notion that this humbucker is tastefully rendered for its application here. The fatter pickup delivers precisely the added muscle that so many players crave from a Strat’s bridge position, enabling thick lead tones and easy crunch, yet without muddying the guitar’s overall voice. Yet this configuration still allows the guitar to be very much a classic Strat elsewhere, too, retaining everything from wiry, early Mark Knopfler-like tones to stinging SRV-inspired blues voices in the remaining switch settings, where these V-Mod single-coils prove to offer a great blend of bite and clarity. The only opportunity missed here, I feel, is a bridge-plus-middle setting achieved with just one of the humbucker’s coils to retain that popular bright, funky “in-between” sound (as it is, with the full humbucker in the blend, it’s the dullest setting of the five). Regardless, the American Professional Stratocaster HSS is a guitar that you could throw at most any musical style and come out smiling, and it deserves huge plaudits for that.

SPECIFICATIONS

AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL STRATOCASTER HSS SHAWBUCKER

CONTACT fender.com
PRICE $1,399 street
NUT WIDTH 1.685"
NECK Maple, 25.5" scale
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 9.5" radius
FRETS 22 narrow-tall
TUNERS Diecast Fender staggered-post tuners
BODY Alder
BRIDGE Two-point Synchronized Tremolo with bent-steel saddles and new pop-in arm mechanism
PICKUPS Two V-Mod single-coil Stratocaster pickups and one Shawbucker
CONTROLS Master Volume (with dual-ganged pot), neck/middle Tone, bridge Tone, 5-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Fender USA 250L, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.6 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS A superbly versatile Strat with a really great sounding bridge-position humbucker, and good classic sounds elsewhere on the dial.
CONCERNS Many players might enjoy a more traditional tone from the bridge-plus-middle pickup selection. Some fret ends are a tad sharp.

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AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL JAZZMASTER

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Fender’s product development Manager Allen Abbassi seems particularly excited by the Jazzmaster’s inclusion in the new Professional lineup, given that it was never part of the American Standard series, and I can see why (see sidebar for more from Allen). The American Professional Jazzmaster captures all the surf-inflected cool that helped to make originals so popular with a range of alternative-minded players, while cutting superfluous features that often just get in the way, a move that—in my mind—only serves to better emphasize the utility of the remaining features. To wit, Fender has dispensed with the oft-ignored “rhythm circuit” (aka “useless muddy sound circuit”) normally found on the upper horn, and positioned the 3-way toggle in that more convenient location instead.

This example comes in Fender’s Mystic Seafoam, a very cool new color with a subtle metallic element in its gloss polyurethane finish, complemented by a three-ply mint-green pickguard. The Jazzmaster emerged from its case with an easy-feeling setup that made it immediately appealing in the hand. We haven’t often seen maple necks on Jazzmasters (rosewood is available on the Sunburst and Sonic Gray finish options), but this choice works great with the lively, bright color, and the fret dress feels absolutely faultless, too. Fender uses a tightly machined screw-in arm for this traditional offset-style vibrato (Abbassi says a push-in arm can be tricky when paired with this “floating” spring action), and replacing the old rocker bridge and threaded steel saddles with a fixed Mustang bridge with brass barrel saddles greatly improves the vibrato’s smooth performance and return-to-pitch stability.

The new V-Mod Jazzmaster pickups were designed by Michael Frank, who used taller Alnico magnets to allow the coils to be wound a little taller for a fuller, punchier bridge tone and a richer neck sound. Plugged in, the American Professional Jazzmaster pays off big in classic offset tone, yet with a little extra sting from the bridge position, and a slightly deeper, fuller voice in the neck. This guitar provides a quick reminder of why the originals appealed to left-of-center players from Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo to J. Mascis to Kevin Shields to Nels Cline, and if anything, this stripped-down rendition might have taken them where they were going even faster. The fixed Mustang bridge is a great addition here—confirming why such an addition has been a popular mod for many years—and really seems to solidify the overall voice of the guitar, while improving sustain and reducing that archetypal offset “plink-iness” somewhat, although not so much as to drastically change the classic personality of the instrument. All in all, it’s a very thoughtful re-think of a respected vintage workhorse.

SPECIFICATIONS

AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL JAZZMASTER

CONTACT fender.com
PRICE $1,499
NUT WIDTH 1.685”
NECK Maple, 25.5" scale
FRETBOARD Maple, 9.5" radius
FRETS 22 narrow-tall
TUNERS Diecast Fender staggered-post tuners
BODY Alder
BRIDGE New Jaguar/Jazzmaster with modified Mustang chromed brass saddles, traditional floating offset vibrato with screw-in arm
PICKUPS Two V-Mod single-coil Jazzmaster pickups
CONTROLS Master Volume and Tone controls, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Fender USA 250L, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.8 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS A thoughtfully stripped-down rendition of the vintage template, which still offers all the most essential sounds and features of the original.
CONCERNS None.

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AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL JAGUAR

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Originally billed as Fender’s top-tier model, the Jaguar has always seemed the quirkiest of the company’s major offerings, but has won many devotees over the years. Not only should this American Professional Jaguar tick all the boxes for fans, but is arguably a more viable and versatile performance tool than many pre-CBS examples. The 24” scale length has always made the Jag “a less Fend-ery Fender” in some ways, but the addition of the robust Mustang bridge to the format really tightens up the performance, and the tone too. That, and Michael Frank’s redesigned pickups—with windings calibrated to each position, and nickel-silver “claws” in place of steel (which taper the magnetic field and inductance) to enable the bridge pickup to be wound hotter—hint that this new Jaguar might roar enough to blast beyond jangly pop and twangy surf tunes.

Fender has found a couple of beautifully figured pieces of alder to showcase beneath this example’s Three-Tone Sunburst finish (again, the seam is difficult to spot), and the overall effect—along with the chrome-plated hardware and control plates and three-ply mint ’guard—is a stylishly vintage look. The rosewood fingerboard also sports some nifty grain patterns in the form of dark-to-light-brown striping that runs much of the length of the neck. In dispensing with the original Jag’s doubly cumbersome rhythm circuit and triple-slider-switch array for pickup and phase selection, Fender has also made this new rendition far more performance-friendly. A 4-way blade switch on the lower horn delivers bridge pickup, bridge and neck in parallel, neck, and bridge and neck in series (fuller and hotter), while the single slider switch positioned—arguably a little lonely-looking—on the upper horn gives you phase reversal of both two-pickup settings.

While this Jaguar plays great, it was having just a little more trouble returning to pitch after significant vibrato use than was the Jazzmaster. Fender is shipping the entire series with .009-.042 strings, but habitual Jag players generally put at least .010 sets on their guitars, and often go to .011s to help make up the string tension lost by the 24” scale length, and I think that approach would help here. Regardless, the guitar sounded great through all the test amps, and while it excelled at the trenchant, biting surf and indie chime that the model is best known for, I truly enjoyed throwing it at some heavier styles, too. Rather surprisingly (and while noting the Shawbucker-loaded guitars’ clear propensity to rock hard when required), this Jaguar was perhaps my favorite of the bunch when played through the Marshall with gain set to “stun,” or the JHS Angry Charlie distortion or Bondi Sick As overdrive pedals engaged. Maybe the shorter scale length felt a little more “rock” to the fingers, but it’s also that these pickups enabled a gnarly, nasty aggression that was extremely inspiring when I really tore into it. The same kind of attitude also excelled at convincing Black Keys-style grunge-blues with an enticingly clanky, granular texture. In short, it’s big bags of fun!

SPECIFICATIONS

AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL JAGUAR

CONTACT fender.com
PRICE $1,499
NUT WIDTH 1.685"
NECK Maple, 24" scale
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 9.5" radius
FRETS 22 narrow-tall
TUNERS Diecast Fender staggered-post tuners
BODY Alder
BRIDGE New Jaguar/Jazzmaster with modified Mustang chromed brass saddles, traditional floating offset vibrato with screw-in arm
PICKUPS Two V-Mod single-coil Jaguar pickups
CONTROLS Master Volume and Tone controls, 4-way switch, phase switch
FACTORY STRINGS Fender USA 250L, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.7 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Retains an appealing dose of classic Jaguar character while improving on hardware and electronics.
CONCERNS Heavier strings might improve tension across the bridge.

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AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL TELECASTER DELUXE SHAWBUCKER

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Outwardly, this guitar will look much like the standard formulation of this beefed-up Tele from the early ’70s, but the American Professional Telecaster Deluxe Shawbucker offers a few subtle twists that take the guitar into new territory. First, the two pickups that appear, at first glance, to be the usual reproductions of Fender’s Wide Range Humbucking Pickups of 1972, which were developed by former Gibson engineer Seth Lover, are in fact stealth Shawbuckers (reading 7.05kΩ neck, 7.42kΩ bridge), with staggered adjustable poles and WRH-style covers. Ironically, the change ostensibly takes the guitar back in time from ’70s-era Lover-bucker tone to late ’59 Lover-bucker tone, since that’s the template Tim Shaw was aiming to reproduce with these pickups in the first place.

The other notable alteration is that Fender has given this model the traditional small Telecaster headstock, rather than the wide post-CBS-Strat-style headstock that the Deluxe was launched with 45 years ago. I feel it’s a change that serves the aesthetics well, as does the Sonic Gray finish on this example, which might be my personal favorite among a tasty batch of new colors from Fender. Two elements that the Deluxe continues to borrow from the Strat, though, are the six bent-steel saddles in the through-body-strung bridge, and the generous ribcage contour in the back, which enhances playing comfort considerably. The guitar plays great, although the fret ends did reveal just a little bit of sharpness when I ran my left hand quickly up the neck.

Even with these PAF-derived humbuckers, the Deluxe has its own spanky, clanging, 25.5"-scale-and-alder-bodied thing going on, and it all melds together in a punchy, attention-grabbing voice. This is a great one for everything from chugging grunge to searing blues-rock, and it will even purr warmly—or, indeed, twang competently—with a little dialing in. In short, it’s superbly versatile, and quickly reminds us why the format has become so popular with the alt and indie crowds in recent years. Despite the staggered-post tuners, the dead string length between nut and posts rings a little atonally through heavy distortion, and I’d probably stuff a chunk of foam there to dampen it if I were to gig this guitar (not being a smoker with a cigarette butt to wedge there instead), but that’s a minor note at most.

SPECIFICATIONS

AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL TELECASTER DELUXE SHAWBUCKER

CONTACT fender.com
PRICE $1,399
NUT WIDTH 1.685"
NECK Maple, 25.5" scale
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 9.5" radius
FRETS 22 narrow-tall
TUNERS Diecast Fender staggered-post tuners
BODY Alder BRIDGE Through-strung Tele bridge with six bent-steel saddles
PICKUPS Two Shawbuckers with Wide Range Humbucker-style covers and pole alignments
CONTROLS Individual Volume and Tone controls for each pickup, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Fender USA 250L, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.5 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS A great “rocker with a twist”, with a pair of very well conceived humbuckers and a gutsy attitude.
CONCERNS Fret ends are just slightly sharp in places.

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AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL STRATOCASTER HH SHAWBUCKER

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This one clearly comes the closest to doubling-up on the features of another guitar in the roundup, yet the American Professional Stratocaster HH Shawbucker simply in gaining a humbucker and losing two coils, becomes a somewhat different beast from the HSS variant. Same body shape, scale length and neck feel, sure, and the same updated Stratocaster trem with a delightfully smooth action and excellent stability, but… this one has two humbuckers, and that changes one’s perception of the instrument dramatically, somehow.

Build-wise, this HH also displays confident craftsmanship; the Olympic White finish is flawless, and lends a timeless visual foundation to the parchment-white pickguard. This guitar’s neck sports a beautiful dark-brown rosewood fingerboard with some enticing lighter striping beneath the treble strings, and its frets are all immaculately dressed. When I spoke to Fender’s Tim Shaw two years ago about his then-newly created Shawbuckers, he said, “I know what the original PAF spec was and I’ve obviously spent time looking at modern variations. This humbucker was definitely wound at the lower end of the output spectrum [this pair reads 7.03kΩ neck and 7.41kΩ bridge], and as a result there’s a lot of clarity. They have kind of a ‘chest voice’ to them, a breathiness that works real well. And these pickups are deliberately not potted, but they’re wound pretty tight to avoid microphonic feedback. That allows a whole lot of expression that you don’t get when you wax the crap out of them.”

Fender runs these two four-conductor humbuckers through a 5-way switch to achieve some nifty bonus colors. The switch positions are follows: full bridge ’bucker, inside coils of both pickups, both full ’buckers, outside coils of both pickups, and full neck ’bucker. In use, I found positions two and four great for lively to funky clean tones, and position two in particular did a great impersonation of a standard SSS Strat’s position two. As for the Shawbuckers themselves, I’d say they nail their developer’s objectives beautifully. They are thick and rich into an amp set for slight breakup, but they really shine in full lead mode, and also really lapped up the juicy saturation added by an Xotic BB Preamp overdrive pedal. The Strat’s scale length, its bolt-neck tonality, and these very articulate pickups contribute to an extremely dynamic single-note fidelity even amid overdriven chords, while the same elements combine to add a lot of punch to chunky rock rhythm parts. Ultimately, I found this a surprisingly appealing configuration for any playing style that demanded a little dirt and attitude, likely making the HH Shawbucker a big winner for plenty of contemporary and alt-rockers.

SPECIFICATIONS

AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL STRATOCASTER HH SHAWBUCKER

CONTACT fender.com
PRICE $1,399
NUT WIDTH 1.685"
NECK Maple, 25.5" scale
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 9.5" radius
FRETS 22 narrow-tall
TUNERS Diecast Fender staggered-post tuners
BODY Alder
BRIDGE Two-point Synchronized Tremolo with bent-steel saddles and new pop-in arm mechanism
PICKUPS Two Shawbucker humbuckers
CONTROLS Master Volume and Tone, 5-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Fender USA 250L, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.65 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Excellent playability, great clarity amid its appealing rock tones, and some bonus sounds from the 5-way switching.
CONCERNS None.

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FAR BEYOND STANDARD:
THE 2017 FENDER AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL SERIES

New Telecaster bridge design features compensated brass saddles and lower sidewalls.

You can tell from the gleeful hitch in his voice that Fender Product Development Manager Allen Abbassi is delighted with the new American Professional Series just introduced for 2017, and he has good reason to be. In replacing the long-running American Standard range, Fender had a lot to live up to—and by all indications they have nailed it.

“The American Standard has been in the lineup for 30 years,” Abbassi told GP, “and it’s no small feat to come up with something that is better. Looking at every tiny part of the guitars from the ground up we discovered that there was a lot we could do. The series started shaping up to be such a major change that we didn’t want it to be viewed as, ‘Oh, this is Part Five of the American Standard,’ so the name changed too. Also, the ‘American Professional’ is anything but a ‘standard’ version of these guitars.”

The foundational principle behind the new series encompassed creating a range of guitars with features, components, and specifications that many clued-in pro players today are already demanding in their instruments. Among these, Abbassi notes, and universal to all guitar models in the range, are a treble-bleed circuit (so the volume control doesn’t get muddy sounding when turned down), taller frets, and a new “Deep-C” neck profile, among other things. All individual models also have modified and upgraded bridges and/or trems, and newly developed V-Mod or Shawbucker pickups. “I told our R&D people,” Abbassi said, by way of example, “to come up with a Telecaster bridge that provided modern functionality, but with vintage tone. Everyone upgrades their Tele bridges to compensated saddles, so that’s what we did, and the sidewalls around the plate are lower so they don’t interfere with your hand when you play.” And in addition, a stylish “half ashtray” cover, an homage to Leo’s original bridge cover, but one that you can leave in place if desired.

Ultimately, Abbassi concluded, the American Professional is intended as “the go-to guitar for someone who is a 24-7 musician, because it has the classic Fender looks, but with many under-the-hood upgrades.”

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