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The Lagerphone

These pages are intended for those who are first-time lagophonists - as I once was. Interested in the idea, seen some in use, but not sure just how to start. Well, we can start from the simple basics. In the early days it seems to have been standard for an old broom handle to be the foundation. Broom handles! Convenient maybe, but what about durability? I was not surprised to get this story from Rowan Webb :

"David Mulhallen occasionally played a tape he had made of us performing at the Opera House where, to a radio listener, there was an unaccounted burst of applause midway through The Lark in the Morning. The spot operator had focused the beam down to just the part of the lagerphone where the bow struck : bits of splinter and crown seals were flying everywhere, highlighted against the blackness."

Not many of us, I think, will be playing in the (Sydney) Opera House to such effect. More likely we will be playing in small halls and with limited resources. I recommend you pass on the broom handles and instead go down to your local woodyard and purchase a length of 1" dowel in reasonably hard wood (ask advice as to what would be suitable). If you get a piece long enough you will be able to cut it into lengths suitable for people of different heights. While you are there you might also get a shorter piece 1" square of the same wood - this will make some cross bars and rattlers. You will also need several packets of crown seals from the home bottling section of any large hardware or general store, and some nails - 1" clouts have suited me well. Cut the wood into suitable lengths and smooth it down - hand rubbing with glass paper will do fine but make sure to leave no splinters which might later rub into your hands. Punch a hole in each bottle top. If you have a nail punch, use that, if not, one of the nails themselves will do fine. Wriggle the punch or nail around in the hole to enlarge it - big enough for the bottle top to be loose on the nail but not able to pass over the nail head.

Now thread two tops onto one nail and hammer that nail into the main pole somewhere near the bottom. Not all the way in, just far enough to hold the nail but leave the tops free to rattle. Now another two tops onto another nail and hammer that into the pole on the side opposite the first one. Repeat with four more tops on two more nails a short distance higher up the pole, perhaps at 90° to the first pair (this produces a nice staggered effect). Continue thus up the pole as far as you wish, but if you come all the way up then leave a space at hand-height to give you somewhere to hold it. If you would like a cross bar, similarly nail tops onto that and fasten it across the pole. You will probably find that fastening easier if you cut a flat face on the front of the pole, drill holes through both pole and cross piece, and put a bolt through. This picture sent to my by Walter Bollinger of the (Sydney) Ryebuck Bush Band will give you an idea of what to aim for.

And there you have a lagerphone! I am serious - what you have there is enough to meet the basic requirements of being a lagerphone (insofar as such requirements can be considered formalised). Well done! Try bouncing it up and down on the floor and shaking it around and hear what it sounds like.

One last point, repeated bouncing will damage the base of the pole (and possibly the dance floor). That can be prevented by fitting around the base a thick rubber stop type of cap (from the hardware store) or something similar - as in this case ........
Bootee Vertical
And another caution - repeated scraping of the rattler will eventually wear down the pole. That can be avoided by wrapping metal around the pole as Walter Bollinger of the Ryebuck Bush Band has done with his.
Walter Sheathing

Before we leave the construction I might add another point which may interest you if you become more advanced. Inside each bottle top is a plastic seal and if they are left in they dampen the rattle. There are various ways of removing the seal but the way I have found easiest is to grip the crown (the corrugated part) with a pair of long-nose pliers and hold it in boiling water for ten seconds (have a pan simmering on the stove). Then lift it out and with a thin screwdriver prise out the seal - it usually comes out easily. But at the beginner stage I suggest you just leave them in.

The rattler stick

You can manage without a rattler stick. Just the pole itself is fun to bounce up and down in time with the music. In fact we in the TNMG have done just that with the stomper sticks But once you have got the hang of that 'beat' then you can make the thing more musical (?!) by scraping and banging with a rattle stick.

The simplest construction is to use a bit more of the same wood - as a rough guide a piece about a quarter to a third the length of the pole should suit - but depending on the size of your hand you might prefer a piece slightly smaller in diameter. Woodyards often have a bin of offcuts which they sell for little or nothing. Try some of those and see what suits you best. For the moment concentrate on comfort - later you can think about something more clever.

Having got your piece of wood, cut notches along one side for about half the length. If it is softwood then a woodfile or rasp will do that for you, but if it is hardwood then start with a hacksaw and smooth off with a file. Aim for about ½" deep and 1" apart, leaving a ½" ridge between each (but again, more or less, according to the size of your hand). This will get you started and later you can choose different dimensions for yourself. Something that some lagophonists do is to have two sets of notches on opposite sides of the stick, cut to different dimensions. Smaller, closer notches are somewhat easier to play but less noisy, bigger wider notches need more effort but produce a louder rumble. But personally I think that is getting a bit advanced.

What does it sound like?

The question asked by everyone who has not heard a lagerphone!  Well, like the man said, 'a sound not unlike a number of lager bottle tops nailed to a broomhandle'. So far as I know there is no 'professional' quality recording available in which a lagerphone can be clearly distinguished - with the possible exception of David Bruce's 'Piosenki' which I mention on my International page. They being so much dance band rather than concert band instruments it must be rare for one to appear in a recording studio. In view of that and to provide something to fill the gap, Janice Aldridge brought her mobile phone to one of our TNMG sessions when we were playing in the LDK theatre at Woden and recorded this video . I fear the visual is not good but the sound is clear with the group playing behind. However if by chance anyone does have a truly professional recording they would be willing to let me either incorporate or link to I would be most pleased to hear (email me from the Index page - link below).

April 2013

I now have a sizeable collection of bottle tops sorted by colour which I am happy to supply to anyone interested in making a lagerphone. Well more or less sorted by colour. As some of them are of more than one colour, some are indeterminate, and some have a different colour round the edge the sorting is somewhat subjective. I have large quantities of : green; bronze/gold; red; dark blue/black; mid blue; and silver/grey. Lesser quantities of : white; yellow; fawn/orange and dark brown - and a few others which might be called pretty or pastel colours - mixed pale yellow, light blue, light green and such which I have kept separate because they might appeal to those of us at the younger end of the age scale. If you would like any send me an email - email box on the Index page (link below) - and I will parcel some up and send them out. And no, I do not want to be paid (they have cost me nothing) but I would appreciate being sent a picture of whatever you make.


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