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History Of The Newfoundland Ugly Stick

My first encounter with the Newfoundland Ugly Stick occurred some 40 odd years ago, an uncle of mine that was a self taught guitar and accordion player was the proud owner of a self made NL Ugly Stick. Many an evening when supper was over, and the dishes done, was spent around his wood burning kitchen range in sing-a-longs, accompanied by guitar and the jingle and  thump of the ugly stick being played by one of his cronies. Those evenings are some  of my most cherished memories.
The information below gives some insight into the Newfoundland Ugly Stick origins, and history.

Image: NL Ugly Stick JPG - (hand & arm not included)

In Newfoundland, it is referred to as an "Ugly Stick." In the Dutch province Friesland this type of instrument is known as a 'kuttepiel'. In the American upper-midwestern states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the closely related stumpf fiddle or pogocello originated in Czech communities and adds small cymbals, strings, and a drum.

The Mendoza, Mendozer, Monkey Stick, Murrumbidgee River Rattler or Lagerphone  is a traditional English percussion instrument, widely used in folk music. The origins of the name are not known but it is believed to stem from an association with one of the many Gypsy, Spanish and Italian buskers who were popular in London in the Victorian era.

This instrument is constructed from a stout pole affixed to a heavy boot at the base (originally the end is believed to have been covered with a rag to give some protection to the pub floor, the boot is probably a more recent addition). 

Metal "jingles", commonly beer-bottle tops, are fastened at intervals along the shaft and putting a 1" washer in between the tops increases the quality of the sound made. When played on a wooden floor (common in ale-houses) the sound produced is a combination of a bass drum and tambourine. 

It can also be played with an additional small notched or serrated stick held in the other hand, allowing it to not only be shaken or hammered onto the ground, but also "bowed" to produce a combined clicking and rattling sound.

The name "Monkey Stick" comes from a modern practice: in homage to the trained monkeys formerly used by buskers to solicit money from passersby, a number of musicians have taken to fixing a small stuffed toy monkey to the tops of their instruments.

In Australia, this instrument constructed with beer-bottle tops is known as a Lagerphone a variation of the traditional aboriginal instrument using shells. The same name and construction is found in New Zealand.

A bush band is a group of musicians that play traditional Australian folk music or contemporary folk music played in a traditional Australian style. A similar bush band tradition is also found in New Zealand.


In addition to vocals, instruments featured in bush bands may include fiddle, accordion, guitar, banjo, mandolin, concertina, harmonica, lagerphone, bush bass (tea chest bass) or double bass, tin whistle, and bodhrán. 

Less common are the piano, bones, barcoo dog (a sheep herding tool used as a sistrum), spoons, and musical saw. Although not traditional, electric bass guitar or electric guitar have occasionally been used since the 1970's. 

IA similar instrument, the batih, is found in Ukraine.

The variation of this instrument called the ?Zob Stick? was constructed and named in 1968 by percussionist and songwriter Keef Trouble of the band Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts and Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs. 

It is now, with the term ?Lagerphone,? the most commonly used name for this instrument. The Brett Marvin invented term ?Zob? was taken from an old risqué UK naval term that has the same meaning in French. 

The Keef Trouble ?Zob Stick? is distinguished by the addition of a sprung-boot attached to the bottom of the pole and a metal sleeve round its center, this being hit with a serrated wooden stick.

From The Urban Dictionary

A stick that has the magical property of turning anyone touched with it, ugly. A beating from the ugly stick will have a much more severe effect than just a casual touch.

Ugly sticks are rumored to come from Ugly Trees, which in turn can be found clumped together in ugly forests.
1) Christ, she ain't half been beaten with the ugly stick.

2) Bloody hell, she fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

3) She must have come out of the ugly forest to get here and hit every tree on the way out.
by Stafford May 31, 2005

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