© 2022 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Performers gear up to strum their hearts out at the Air Guitar World Championships

Justin "Nordic Thunder" Howard performs. (Maria Lax)
Justin "Nordic Thunder" Howard performs. (Maria Lax)

Good vibrations are in the air as preparations begin for the Air Guitar World Championships this Friday in Finland.

Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard was crowned the 2012 air guitar world champion and will judge this year’s competition. Howard plays the real guitar, or “there-guitar,” but asserts he’s better at air guitar. His favorite song to air jam to is “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath.

“It is ridiculous. It is as silly and absurd as it sounds,” Howard says. “In fact, that’s why I wanted to start being an air guitarist to begin with, because I saw that this thing existed and I’m like, ‘That is the stupidest thing ever. I want to be the best in the world at that.’”

Interview highlights

On whether air guitar is a sport

“It’s a sport. It’s a comedy show. It’s a lot of different things at once. But first and foremost, it is a competition. And what makes it a competition, which then falls in line with being a sport, is that competitors compete against one another to become the best in the world at doing nothing.

“There’s some criteria in which they’re judged upon. Technical merit: Does it look like you’re playing the notes that you’re hearing throughout the sound system? Stage presence: How does one fill the stage and feed in and out of the audience with the energy being exchanged? And last but not least, is ‘airness.’ Airness is the je ne sais quoi of this sport and the things in which the judges are looking for to score. You score a performer based upon the same scale that professional ice skaters use, which is a 4.0 to 6.0.”

Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard plays the air guitar. (Courtesy of the World Air Guitar Championships)

On the technical skill required and what judges look for

“I’m right-handed, so I would I play my air guitar the same way in which I play the guitar. I’m going to strum with my right hand. That’s where I would hold my pick and my left hand would be the fingers on the fretboard that go up and down the neck of the guitar.

“High notes on a guitar are played very low on the neck of the guitar itself. So if you’re trying to emulate the actual sounds that a there-guitar makes, you’re going to play those high notes further down on the neck or the low notes further up on the neck. Those are the things that you want to take into consideration when looking for something technical.”

On the connection between air guitar and peace

“Air guitarists are some of the finest human beings I’ve met on Earth. We all get together in Finland for this competition. We spend about a week together, but the show itself is one night of that week. During that whole week you’re meeting people from all over the world and you get naked with strangers immediately and jump into a sauna and then jump into the river. And you’re singing karaoke until early hours in the morning and you’re eating pizza in the gutter and you’re doing all these amazing things with all these people, none of which speak the same language.

“But the language in which we all do speak is that of music. And as a spectator of the sport, you just get to see a bunch of freaks on stage in spandex and hairspray and glitter doing their thing. And it is that as well. But the more you become involved with the community as a whole, the people who are involved are really taking strides and efforts to make the world a better place.”

Watch on YouTube.

The Here & Now staff picked the song they would air guitar their hearts out to


Kalyani Saxena produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Grace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.