Guitar Face

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Leah Kruszewski
Guitar Face

Guitarists who are concentrating hard during an intense solo can contort their faces into expressions of disgust, ecstasy, surprise, anguish, and an array of other emotions.  Photoshopping in giant slugs in the place of guitars seems to justify their expressions better than the stage setting does. (If you’re not familiar with this meme, please google image search ‘guitar face giant slug’.  I promise it will be time well-spent.) The term ‘face-melting’ has become a commonplace description for any great solo.  

So why does guitar face happen?  Do players really do it unconsciously, or are they trying to look cool?  Is it just guitarists? Just certain styles of music? 

Guitar face is stereotypically pictured with electric guitars in musical genres in styles like rock, blues, and jazz where players stand up on stage and improvise solos.  But in my experience it’s everywhere - present in many styles of music and in other instruments as well.  

For example:

  • A classical guitar colleague of mine would not only contort his face, but also work his jaw when he played.   It looked like he was chewing air.

  • An extremely talented world-class jazz pianist from my hometown was known for making crazy faces throughout performances.  An audience member once even complained because she found the faces distracting!  

  • My mom attended one of my early recitals as a classical guitar student and told me afterwards ‘I wish you wouldn’t do that with your face while you’re playing.’   

  • Plenty of flamenco guitarists make a guitar face while playing solos and in intense moments of accompanying.


Guitar face is understandably a more popular subject for memes than for scientific musings.  I didn’t find any well-researched material on the subject, just this brief article and a small discussion on quora.  Here are a few ideas that people have exchanged: 

  • It comes from being in a trance-like creative state

  • It’s a reflection of the complex emotions we’re expressing with our music

  • It’s a reflex of physical strain, the same way we make a face when lifting something heavy or pushing ourselves physically

  • It’s a reflex of mental concentration, the same way people furrow their brow when concentrating.

  • Sometimes, it’s a reflection of what we’re physically doing on guitar - for example, a lot of guitarist scowl when they bend strings. 

Generally, guitar face is unintentional and unconscious.  It might be accepted or even ‘cool’ in for rock or metal guitarists.  But it can be undesirable in other settings. I personally would much rather look pleasant and photogenic on stage, even when I’m at peak concentration.  There are certainly gender expectations at work there too. But I accept my mild guitar face as a side effect of being in the moment, and wouldn’t want to distract myself from my music thinking about my appearance.  (My mom has learned to accept it too and hasn’t mentioned it in years.)

If guitar faces are too extreme, they can be a distraction to the audience.  This was the case with the jazz pianist from my hometown -- he eventually learned to tone down his grimaces so they wouldn’t distract from his music.  Now he tours the world and has a charismatic and charming stage presence.  

In some cases, like my air-chewing colleague’s, guitar face is a symptom of excess tension and energy misplaced.  We need to learn to be conscious and aware of our physical state while we play. That helps us control our execution and put our energy where it serves our music.  We play better when the rest of our body is relaxed. Guitar face is just one area where energy can be misplaced. Some players clench their legs, stiffen their shoulders, curl their toes, etc.  Tension in any of these other places takes energy away from our hands doing their job efficiently.  

Do you make guitar faces while you play?  Are you conscious of it in the moment? Do you mind that you make them, or is it ‘cool’ in your genre?  Have you ever tried to tone it down? What do you recommend for anyone who would like to control their guitar faces a bit more? 

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