Here's my ideal freswater setup

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  I like to use a 40 gallon long, the above pix are a 55. Just before I found out I was moving to Hawaii I bought a 40gal long from Meijers for $60 but I left it behind, the movers wanted $120 to pack it. When I got to Hawaii I went to buy one and they want $170. A 55 is only $90, they said it's because they sell more 55's.
 PAINT THE SIDES AND BACK BLACK, at least the back.
 The reason I like the 40 over the 55 is that it's easier to plant your plants and clean. With a 55 you need a longer stick and the plants get hard to keep down, with a 40 it's real easy to get the plants into the sand. Also I use a piece of air tubing taped to a stick as  vacuum to clean the bottom
, I like to keep the sand spotless, I vacuum about twice a week before I add water. As I vacuum the 55 I really wish I had the 40, it was so much easier on my arms.
 That's next, get silica sand, I like to have about 3", this allows the plants to grow better, they can root easier and stronger, and light will reflect back up from the sand giving more to the plants. Make sure to rinse the sand well before putting in the tank, but don't put it in the tank yet.
 NEXT step is to set up the bubble system. I get a few feet of the hard straight tubing that will fit inside the normal flexible air hose/tube. Then you glue (with aquarium safe silicon) the straight pieces on the bottom and up the side connected at the corner with the flexible tubing. About 3" fro the top you switch back to flexible. I do about 4 of these, ending in different areas of the tank bottom. You'll need like a 5 way valve to adjust air flow to these. After you place the sand you can have bubble coming from under the sand, I like to adjust them as slow as possible. It's great if you can get it so the bubbles are a second apart or more.
 Next, plants.
Hygrophila corymbosa is my favorite. It has a great shade of green and grows well in various environments. I start with 4 to 5 bundles and spread them out to fill 3/4 of the tank, I like to fill the whole tank leaving a 7" to 10" area off to the side in front for some rocks or driftwood. It'll be kind of sparse at first, but eventually you'll have many of them so long they'll lay across the top of your water. I take these and snip them about 5" from the top and re-plant them, it won't take long till you can get it so thick you can't see 4" past the front glass. It's good to make a tunnel/cave or 2 for the kuhli loaches.
 Then for the fish & such. 10 to 15 neons, 15 harlequins (RASBORA HETEROMORPHA), 2 or 3 newts, 5 or 6 kuhli loaches, 3 or 4 horseface loaches, about 7 hatchet fish, 7 to 10 black neons, and 9 white clouds. I had a tank like this before, and what really looked good was having 2 discus. Some say that the water for discus needs to be around 90f but I bought them as little 1" long babies and in a few months they were almost full grown and brightly colored. Also it's kind of nice to add 2 or 3 zebra danios. More than that will screw up the schools, just a couple will swim along the top of the plants and add a little life.

 It's so kewl to watch a school of fish appear out of the thick plants then disappear back into it then another school shows up. A newt slowly walking across the bottom looking for scraps. A kuhli loach looks like an eel as it slowly comes out of the plants or cave. Meanwhile the discus just sits there still as can be, leaning slightly to one side just showing off it's bright colors, as another school comes out from the plants to play in the open area.
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