Best Cheap Guitar Pickups for Strat, Tele & Les Paul (2024)

A closer look at the Best Budget Guitar Pickups. These are excellent upgrade options to enhance your guitar tone on a budget.
Affordable pickups from popular brands continue to lead the electric guitar pickups market. They provide players access to tone upgrades without breaking the bank.


For the price, a cheap pickup can give you substantial sound improvements. This is particularly noticeable when upgrading budget-friendly guitars with the basic hardware and electronics.

This list highlights the top-rated, budget-friendly pickup options (under $100 for singles and $150 for sets). We selected these pickups based on user feedback from multiple sources, such as forums, user reviews, and expert reviews.

Featured here are conventional pickups, as well as some highly rated rail-type pickups.

Manufacturers are producing pickups patterned after most of the top brands on the market. They also make a point that these pickups are compatible with popular electric guitar models such as the Stratocaster, Telecaster, and Les Paul. This makes installation easier and allows for sound adjustments for a wide range of players and guitar types.

Many players now embrace soldering and tinkering as part of their guitar upgrade process, opting to install and customize pickups themselves. For this reason, we also include some wiring diagrams and other instructions straight from the manufacturers to help you out.

However, seeking assistance from a trusted guitar tech or luthier is still highly recommended if you’re less inclined to DIY, to ensure proper installation and setup.

The Best Cheap Guitar Pickups

Best Stratocaster Pickups

Here are the best pickups for strat type electric guitars. These are guitar pickups that can fit into Strat style single coil pickup holes, with or without a pickguard. Interestingly, both of the highest rated options are actually humbucking pickups in single-coil form factor.

Seymour Duncan SHR-1n Hot Rails Strat Neck

98
GEARANK
98 out of 100. Incorporating 500+ ratings and reviews.
$99.00
Seymour Duncan
At publication time, this was the Highest Rated Single Coil Pickup for Under $100.

Cons

  • Don't expect vintage Fender tone in the neck position
  • It picks up too much of the strings to fingerpick with

Pros

  • Loud, bright and aggressive
  • Balances well with a humbucker as a combo setup
  • Sounds great in the middle its like having an extra bridge HB with a little more mid-range.
  • Great for hotrodding strats.

Why choose between single coil vs humbucker when you can have both? The SHR-1n is a humbucker in a single-coil configuration. And while cheap pickups tend to have poor quality, the SHR-1n can provide enough punch and power to drive your amplifier while maintaining clarity and definition that can compete with the best humbucker guitar pickups.

The Hot Rails uses a pair of blades that is coupled with a strong ceramic magnet and powerful coil windings. This creates a more consistent magnetic pull, resulting in a full and fat guitar tone, with a ton of sustain. It is perfect for classic rock, but also lends itself very well to more aggressive tones such as grunge rock or even metal.

Aside from rock or metal, the SHR-1n can also effortlessly handle everything from sweet lead tones to thick rhythm sounds. Thanks to its humbucking pickups internals, the SHR-1n can effectively keep the noise and interference at bay. Best of all, the SHR-1n - and all its beefy tone - conveniently fits inside a single-coil-sized pickup.

Tone-wise, the Seymour Duncan SHR-1n has a good sounding bright tone. It’s got more midrange, and sounds great when placed in the middle pickup position in combo with regular humbucker pickups.

However, don't expect a vintage Fender tone from these pickups. It's also less ideal to use this pickup when you play a lot of fingerpicking as it pickups up too much of the strings.

If you’re a Stratocatster or a Telecaster person, this pickup will let you enjoy the benefits of a humbucker pickup without altering your guitar's appearance or routing.

Specifications

  • Position: Neck
  • Magnet Material: Ceramic
  • Dimensions: Humbucker in Standard Single-Coil Size
  • Available Colors/Covers: Black, Cream, Parchment, White

Demo

DiMarzio DP184 The Chopper Bridge/Neck Hum-Canceling Single-Coil

95
GEARANK
95 out of 100. Incorporating 325+ ratings and reviews.
$89.99
DiMarzio

Cons

  • It sounds a bit boomy

Pros

  • Fuller sound especially in high-gain settings
  • Great for clean tones as well as distortion
  • Sounds best in middle and bridge position
  • Works great on acoustic guitar too

The DiMarzio DP184 "The Chopper" is another humbucker pickup in a single-coil body structure. And it is one of those pickups that complicates the single coil vs humbucker debate.

It provides a rich sound, which is more noticeable, especially in high-gain settings.

Like other single coil sized humbuckers, the DP184 is equipped with a ceramic magnet underneath two blades that pick up the string vibrations. The Chopper offers a punchy and aggressive tone, enhancing its overall character and attack.

Designed to reduce noise and interference, The Chopper can generally maintain a clean signal even under high-gain conditions. However, it also has a lot of low-end, which can make your guitar pickup sound boomy or muddy, especially in high-gain settings.

The Chopper delivers a robust sound, well-suited for rock and metal styles. It emphasizes the mids, providing a thick, crunchy tone, which appeals to players seeking aggressiveness in their sound.

It features a high-output pickup design, which delivers a strong signal. This ensures that your guitar will pop out in the mix, especially if you’re aiming for more prominent solos. Place it in the middle and bridge positions for the best results.

Adding to its versatility, the DP184 also works great on acoustics. It gives a nice note of clarity and percussiveness to your playing.

Ultimately, the DP184 Chopper is best suited for players seeking for high output pickups with a strong midrange presence. It perfectly fits a single coil cavity on your guitar, which is great if your instrument doesn’t have regular humbucker pickup slots.

Specifications

  • Position: Bridge, Neck
  • Magnet Material: Ceramic
  • Dimensions: Humbucker in Standard Single-Coil Size
  • Available Colors/Covers:Black, Cream, White

Demo

Best Les Paul Pickups

The best humbucker pickup sets not only work well on Les Pauls, but also on other guitars. Do note that these picks are also great humbucker pickups for HSS Strat and Superstrat type guitars.

DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion

97
GEARANK
97 out of 100. Incorporating 650+ ratings and reviews.
$89.99
DiMarzio
At publication time, this was the equal Highest Rated Bridge Humbucker Pickup, together with the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB.

Cons

  • Not meant for cleans
  • Not gritty enough for blues

Pros

  • Tried and tested high-output bridge humbucker
  • Great for crunch and high-gain tones
  • Full-sounding lows with smooth highs
  • Boosted mids make it great for solos as well

Thanks to the success of the DP100, DiMarzio is credited as one of the pioneers of aftermarket guitar pickups. When it was released back in 1972, the DiMarzio Super Distortion was one of the first high-output non-OEM pickups. It quickly became one of the best guitar pickups for metal. Even today, people are still fond of this humbucker pickup's signature sound.

The band KISS adopted the pickup and helped its reputation tremendously. Another noteworthy user of this pickup is Kurt Cobain, who used this on his modified Fender Jaguars in the later years of Nirvana.

Decades later, the DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion is still the go-to pickup for heavy rock and metal. Its ceramic magnet design results in a combination of boosted midrange and smooth treble. This distinct response allows it to handle high gain levels without sounding thin. This makes it a crowd-favorite pickup for the bridge position. Bass response is robust without muddying up during palm mutes. That's a common requirement for most modern metal guitarists.

Being a high-output pickup, the DP100 is not meant for clean sounds. So, if that's what you're after, this may not be for you. But this is easiy one of the best humbuckers for Les Paul Bridge, great for crunch and high gain.

This is a timeless classic that can get you started on great rock guitar tones. It's still one of the best pick ups for metal, especially if you're into classic metal sounds.

Specifications

  • Position: Bridge (Recommended)
  • Magnet Material: Ceramic
  • Dimensions: 2.7 inches x 1.5 in. x 0.631
  • String Spacing: 48.641 mm
  • Available Colors/Covers: 26 Available

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube GearGasms 94/100
Audiofanzine jkessel 100/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB Humbucker Bridge Electric Guitar Pickup

97
GEARANK
97 out of 100. Incorporating 1800+ ratings and reviews.
$99.00
Seymour Duncan
At publication time, this was the equal Highest Rated Bridge Humbucker Pickup, together with the DiMarzio DP100.

Cons

  • Less output and punchy than a SD Distortion Pickup
  • Lacks warmth and a bit brittle on the highs

Pros

  • Has a harmonically rich and fuller electric guitar tone
  • Sounds clean and crisp
  • Tight low end with lots of mids

If you’re in search of a dependable humbucker pickup that covers a wide range of tones, the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB might just be the answer.

The addition of strong Alnico V magnets adds a bit of refinement compared to previous versions. As for applications, this pickup is a solid choice for anyone looking for a reliable workhorse that can handle a wide range of playing styles.

Being a blues guy myself, I agree that this pickup is equally at home (for the most part) in a bluesy jam session. But there are many who use this pickup for full-on metal onslaught tones.

Its crisp and clean tone offers clarity without being overly bright or sacrificing definition. On the flip side, this pickup does have less warmth and can sound a bit brittle on the highs.

In terms of output, the SH-4 JB sits comfortably in the moderate to high range. It's got enough juice to push your amp into overdrive without overwhelming it. However, in comparison to its Super Distortion cousin, the SH-4 JB has a lower output and can sound less punchy as well.

But, thanks to its standard humbucker design, noise and interference are kept to a minimum, even when playing at higher volumes.

All in all, the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB may not be the flashiest pickup on the market, but it's earned its reputation as a go-to choice for guitarists of different genres.

With its balanced tone, versatile performance, and dependable build quality, it's a solid option for anyone looking to upgrade their guitar's sound without breaking the bank.

While the SH-4 JB isn't exactly breaking new ground, it's a tried-and-true pickup that gets the job done.

Specifications

  • Position: Bridge
  • Magnet Material: Alnico V
  • Dimensions: Humbucker
  • Available Colors/Covers: Black, White, Zebra

Demo

Telecaster Set

Fender Original Vintage Tele Pickup Set

92
GEARANK
92 out of 100. Incorporating 350+ ratings and reviews.
$149.99
Fender

Cons

  • Bright tonality may not be for everyone
  • Not for high-gain use

Pros

  • Bright authentic Tele twang
  • Vintage voiced with sweet midrange bump
  • Biting tone works great with overdrive
  • Fuller low end

Thanks to the popularity of the Telecaster guitar, the market is now flooded with many T-style clones. Some are more expensive or cheaper than others.

One surefire way to improve the sound of a Tele clone, is to swap out the pickups for ones that Fender actually made. And this is what the Original Vintage Telecaster set is for.

This particular set is meant to reproduce the dynamic response and tone of the first Telecasters back in the '50s. To do so, it is made using similar materials and specifications, including having Alnico III magnets. This results in a tight trebly twang that's expected of a vintage Tele.

Speaking of twang, cleans have the Tele's expected brightness with the mids cutting through to give it more bite. And this bite is what makes this a good pickup set for country music, as well as other genres like pop, blues, rock, and more. Compared to generic T-style pickups, this guitar pickup set has fuller low end without compromising the highs. Its bright tonality translates well when played with overdrive. The midrange is not too overbearing, so you still get good clarity and definition even as you go to crunch and mid-gain territory.

Word of caution thought that this set sounds really bright, including the Tele neck pickup. It is not meant for high-gain use. Other features of this set include the use of enamel-coated winding wires and cloth output wires. It also has a tin-plated copper base plate for the bridge pickup.

These are the best single coil pickups for those who are looking to level up the sound of their affordable T-style guitar.

Specifications

  • Position: Neck & Bridge (Set)
  • Magnet Material: Alnico III
  • Dimensions: Standard Tele Size
  • Available Colors/Covers: Nickel (Neck), Black (Bridge)

Rating Source Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Justin Bishop Music 94/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

Stratocaster Set

Fender Tex-Mex Strat Pickup Set

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 1150+ ratings and reviews.
$99.99
Fender

Cons

  • Sounds muddy at higher gain settings
  • Can be too gritty for some

Pros

  • Warm ballsy Texas blues sound
  • Good balance of grit and clarity
  • Very responsive to pick attack dynamics
  • Budget-friendly

The Tex-Mex Strat set is one of the best cheap strat pickups for owners of affordable Strat style guitars. This is the same pickup set used in the Fender Jimmie Vaughan Tex-Mex Stratocaster guitar. It has increased output and bite, suitable for aggressive Texas blues style playing.

Note that this is not a high-output pickup set, rather it only adds moderate amount of midrange grit. This way you can still get good cleans when dialing down the volume knob. While having good amount of grit for lively overdrive. Still, this set is noticeably more responsive than generic single coils. You can get more grit by maxing out the volume and using heavy attacks on the strings.

Dialing down the volume knob gives you access to vintage-style glassy cleans. The neck and in-between positions have good clarity and can get to breaking point easily. But it truly shines when used with a sensitive tube amp and light to moderate levels of overdrive. It has a ballsy cutting tone that's great for expressive lead work.

It'll sound muddy at higher gain settings, so don't get this if you're into cranking distortion. It will also be too gritty for those who prefer smoother clean tones.

Being a full pickup set, there are no noticeable volume jumps when switching pickups. You don't have to worry about volume balancing issues.

All in all, you don't have to be a Texas blues fan to appreciate the value and gritty guitar tone of the Fender Tex-Mex set. It is definitely a great Guitar Part upgrade option for Strat owners.

Specifications

  • Position: All
  • Magnet Material: Alnico 5
  • Dimensions: Standard Single Coil
  • String Spacing: 52.451 mm
  • Available Colors/Covers: White

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Audiofanzine MGR/Johnathan 100/100
YouTube Austin G 94/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

Best Pickups for Les Paul on a Budget

Wilkinson Vintage Tone Alnico 5 Overwound

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 500+ ratings and reviews.
$43.43
Wilkinson

Cons

  • Lacks harmonic overtones
  • Big logo up front sticks out like a sore thumb

Pros

  • Super affordable PAF style pickup set
  • Punchy and bright tone with good clarity
  • Nasal overdriven guitar tone
  • Split coil ready wiring included

Wilkinson usually isn't the first name to come to mind when you think about guitar pickup brands. They're usually more known for their hardware and bridges.

The Wilkinson Vintage Tone Alnico 5 M-Series is a set of the best budget humbuckers that's been getting a lot of hype for its good vintage style PAF tone.

These pickups boast a vintage, punchy, and bright PAF style tone with a tight low end, something that you usually only get at higher price points. For a humbucker pickup set, it's surprising how it cleans up nicely, with clarity in the highs. The lower frequencies are also detailed, making this set viable for clean playing use, including jazz. Paired with low to medium overdrive, it produces a nice slightly nasal guitar tone reminiscent of old-school hard rock. Raising the gain higher results in a warm and smooth tone that's quite good for playing solos.

It lacks the bloom and harmonic overtones that are found in expensive PAFs. But this humbucker pickup set will still sound noticeably better than most generic pickups. Another issue is the logo on the coils, which sticks out like a sore thumb.

Still, for a budget-friendly guitar pickup set, this is definitely quite good. It outclasses other cheap humbucker pickups that are usually very poorly made or sound terrible. It even comes with split coil ready wiring, which will appeal to DIY guitar modders and builders.

If you want a set of the best budget humbuckers that are affordable for your DIY guitar projects, then this is for you. It is one of the best guitar pickups on a budget.

Specifications

  • Position: All (Humbucker Set)
  • Magnet Material: Alnico 5
  • Dimensions: Standard Humbucker
  • String Spacing: Standard - 50mm/52mm for neck and bridge
  • Available Colors/Covers: Black, Zebra

Rating Source Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Guitarnivore 92/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

Things to Consider When Buying Electric Guitar Pickups

Single Coil vs. Humbucker

When you’re shopping for the best electric guitar pickups, you need to know the basics. This includes knowing the difference between single-coil and humbucker pickups. The main difference is their size and shape, with the former being smaller than the latter. This size difference means that you can't mix and match the two types without having to mod your guitar.

The two electric guitar pickup types also have different tone and resistance to noise. These are discussed in detail below:

Single Coil Pickups

These pickups have a brighter tone, emphasizing treble and mid-range frequencies. They also generally have lower output. This translates into lower volume, especially those with low ceramic DC resistance. This means that they don’t distort as easily, making them a great fit for genres that use less distortion and/or benefit from a bright tone. Think of blues, country, and surf.

The best single coil pickups for Strat usually have a nice snap and clarity without being shrill or harsh. Mellowed-out magnets commonly found in a vintage electric guitar pickup result in this quality. The downside to single coil pickups is they are susceptible to hum. Thankfully, there are now tools and workarounds for eliminating hum.

Humbucker pickups

These were designed to eliminate the 60-cycle hum static sound of single-coil pickups. Humbuckers have a warmer tone, emphasizing bass and low-mid frequencies. A good humbucker pickup generally has higher output than a single-coil pickup. resulting in more natural-sounding distortion.

Many consider vintage PAF pickups to be the best humbucker pickups. As such, PAF Humbuckers usually command a premium. But there are cheap alternatives that have gotten close to that desired tone.

It is possible to get humbucker pickups in a single coil size, like the Seymour Duncan Hot Rails. And there are single coil pickups in a humbucker size (for example P90 style pickups). This is a great way to get one sound or the other without performing major surgery on your guitar. Still, don't expect these pickups to sound exactly like their original-sized siblings.

A good way to get the benefit of the two pickup types is to get an HSS or HS guitar. These guitars combine a single coil neck and a humbucker bridge pickup. Eddie Van Halen helped popularize this concept with his modded Frankenstrat.

Active vs. Passive

Passive pickups

The majority of pickups are passive, there's no power source to boost their signal before it gets to the amp. Since they don't have batteries and extra electronics, they are easier to maintain. Because of their signal purity, passive pickups have a rich and musical clean tone. With some tweaks, they can also produce great sounding distorted tones.

Active pickups

Active pickups use batteries to boost and tweak their signal. They are considered great for heavy levels of distortion. But they don’t perform as well as passive pickups for anything else. The frequency range they produce is smaller to compensate for the extra frequencies that will be added in by distortion. Because of this, their clean tones usually sound sterile. However, their distorted tones are much more focused and dynamic.

We've been following the Active vs Passive Pickups trend since the 2010's. We've seen many metal players switching to passive pickups, because modelers don't need the output that active pickups put out. It's also interesting to note that for the last couple of years, none of the active pickups on the market have either rated highly enough for us to recommend them, or they've been priced above the limit considered for this guide. Note that switching from passive to active pickups will require you to mod the body (modify) to make room for the extra electronics and a battery.

Unless you really know what you're doing, we don't recommend going to active pickups.

Compatibility – Size and String Spacing

String spacing refers to the distance between the center of your first pole piece (the little dot on top of your pickup) and your sixth. There are three main string spaces you’re going to run across with six-string guitars, standard (48 mm), f-spaced (51 mm), and Fender/single-coil (52-53 mm). These spacings sometimes go by different names.

Standard follows the original spacing used by Gibson. It includes guitars with traditional specs and fixed bridges. If you have a Floyd Rose equipped guitar, you’re going to want a pickup with f-spacing in the neck and bridge position.

Guitars with traditional single-coils should have the same spacing. The pole pieces are often close enough to the strings to get good tone and response. Unfortunately, some cheap imported single-coil pickups have slightly smaller string spacing.

Whenever you’re in doubt be sure to measure before you buy a pickup. So long as you buy a correctly labeled pickup for the position, you should be OK. I.e. buy a bridge pickup for your bridge position.

Buying Guitar Pickup Sets vs. Combining Different Pickups

Something you’re going to notice when you’re shopping around for the best cheap guitar pickups is that you’ll find a lot of pickups that are sold in sets. The cool thing about a set of pickups is that they’re going to be balanced in volume and tone. They also give you consistent tone as you combine the pickups.

However, a lot of musicians like buying different pickups and then combining them in a single guitar to get access to a bunch of different tones. Some guitars even come from the factory like this. The most important thing to know about combining different pickups is that they won’t necessarily sound good together. If they don’t have the same level of output you may have to adjust your volume when switching between different pickups.

While there are drawbacks to combining different pickups, the benefits can be worth the hassle. Using different cheap guitar pickups can make your instrument more flexible. It allows you to accurately reproduce tones from different genres without having to switch instruments. The combination you get from different pickups based on the position you select (like the middle position on a Les Paul, which combines both pickups) can also give you a unique guitar tone that you won’t have access to if you buy a set of pickups.

Coil Tapping & Coil Splitting

These are advanced wiring and switching techniques used to get additional versatility from your pickups. Coil Tap vs Coil Split are often confused with one another and the terms are used interchangeably. Although the practical outcome is similar with both, there are some major differences in implementation.

Coil splitting refers to shutting down one of the coils in a humbucker pickup making it function essentially as a single coil (instead of dual-coil which humbucker pickups are) with brighter tone.

You would need to make sure that the humbucker pickup has 4 wires.

The humbucker pickups in this guide (including the single coil sized ones) either come with 4 conductor wiring or come in that option.

On the other hand, coil tapping is more rare and refers to single coil pickups having an extra wire running off the middle of the coil for a lower output, more vintage sounding option. For this version of the guide, the Quarter Pound Tele Set comes in a tapped version but for a higher price.

Guitar Pickup Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2017 and the current edition was published on February 13, 2024.

Initially, we looked at various pickups that are available from major USA based retailers. For this 2024 edition, we retained our scope featuring standard size pickups, in line with what affordable guitars are equipped with. This resulted in an initial list of the most promising 45 singles and 24 sets, which we examined further by gathering and analyzing relevant reviews, ratings and forum comments about each item, including the most recent sources up to February 2024. The data we gathered tallied to more than 28,500 sources, all of which were then fed into the Gearank Algorithm to produce a rating score out of 100 for each one which we used to narrow down the recommended list to just the highest rated. We divided our recommendations into two popular size-based categories - Single Coil and Humbucker. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

I consider myself a vintage tone connoisseur, so I prefer and recommend these types of pickups. The Fender Tex-Mex is a particular favorite of mine since it produces excellent tone for the genres of music I enjoy, and does so without breaking the bank.

Contributors

Mason Hoberg & Jerome Alcon: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Compiled using photographs of the Fender Tex-Mex Strat Pickup Set and Wilkinson Vintage Tone Set.

The videos have been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

7 thoughts on “Best Cheap Guitar Pickups for Strat, Tele & Les Paul (2024)”

  1. Avatar
    Jon Paul Agustsson

    I have 2 Chinese les paul’s & one flyingV.
    Both les pauls are 3 pickup black beauty’s. I need 5 sealed gold hum buckers 3 are for a les paul & 2 are for a flying V – All 5 of these are covered & gold – the 3rd guitar needs sealed hum buckers but without covers all black with gold screws – black & gold not silver.

    1. Hi Jon,

      Many manufacturers offer custom covers or slug and screw colors so if you don’t see a cover option from retailers, it’s best to contact the manufacturer directly.

      -Raphael

  2. I have a Epiphone Less Paul custom with three pickups. Where can I get a set of three and is the middle pick up also a bridge pickup ?

    1. Avatar
      Alexander Briones

      Hello Lloyd,

      First, let me apologize for missing your question, especially since it pertains to an interesting topic – three humbucker pickup guitars.

      From what I’ve gathered, the default configuration for triple humbuckers (as seen in Les Paul Custom models) is to use another neck pickup in the middle position. This means that you may want to get an extra neck humbucker if you want to stick to default setups.

      Of course, you can go the opposite route depending on your tone preference. Just note that installing a bridge humbucker in the middle position will most probably result in a slightly hotter output and brighter sound.

      I have yet to see a triple humbucker set that’s readily available in the market, but there may be some retailers who can bundle a good trio of humbuckers for you. Good luck with your quest for tone.

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