Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

What Does the Horn Hand Mean?

What Does the Horn Hand Mean?

Looking into the meaning of the ubiquitous "horn hand," an icon of rock ''n'' roll.

I was avoiding work one day, mindlessly perusing Facebook photos when I found my editor's page, replete with pictures of him hanging backstage with a galaxy of guitar greats. I noticed roughly half these rockers had one or two hands lifted in the horn sign.

I was avoiding work one day, mindlessly perusing Facebook photos when I found my editor's page, replete with pictures of him hanging backstage with a galaxy of guitar greats. I noticed roughly half these rockers had one or two hands lifted in the horn sign.

This hand gesture—let's just call it The Sign of One's Allegiance to Satan and All that is Unholy (or the gesture, for short)—has been around for centuries. In 1897, Bram Stoker referenced it in Dracula. (Keanu Reeves' acting in the 1992 movie remake is a testament to the hellish nature of this work.) It first crept into our musical culture with John Lennon's cartoon figure on the cover of Yellow Submarine—let's just blame Yoko for that one and move on.

The gesture grew in popularity when Ronnie James Dio joined Black Sabbath in 1979. I was unwilling to travel to the depths of hell to interview the recently departed Dio, but I did find a 2001 interview with him on, in which he said, "It's not the devil's sign like we're here with the devil. It's an Italian thing I got from my grandmother called the 'Malocchio.' It's to ward off the Evil Eye or to give the Evil Eye."

I was raised by an Italian mother, and the only hand signal I ever saw was the sign of the cross after the blessing or maybe the swift motion of a hand swinging toward my head if I ate before grace. Judging from the horned devil whipping the drowning priest on the cover of Dio's solo album, there may be a bit more to the gesture then he is letting on.

Gene Simmons first introduced the gesture in 1977 on the cover of Love Gun. The 'Knight in Satan's Service'—whose song "God of Thunder" freaked me out in third grade—insists that he got the gesture from Spider Man. Likely story, coming from a forked-tongue, blood-spewing fire breather.

So how did the gesture become mainstream? Ask former president George W. Bush, or any other Texan, what it means and they'll tell you it stands for "hook 'em horns," a sign of allegiance to the University of Texas. I'll buy that—Texans are pretty obsessed with football. But how does one explain the Obamas, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Pat Robertson using the gesture? Is the gesture all they have in common with Metallica, Tenacious D, Kid Rock, Beelzebub, and the like? There are no less than millions of online rants claiming that politicians, celebrities, heavy metal bands, rebellious 12-year-olds, animated characters, and super heroes consciously make the gesture as visual shorthand for "Hail, Satan."

My guess is that rockers use the gesture as shorthand for, "I want to rock and roll all night, and party evv-ur-reeee day." It also serves as a convenient, but disguised middle finger to the establishment, as well as a salute to those about to rock. Political figures do it because a PR person told them that making the devil-horns sign would help them appeal to a younger demographic (or Texas fans). In short, they sell their souls to look cool.

In photos since about sixth grade, I've always been more of a peace sign guy (thank you, Ringo), but of late, I've found my pinky and pointer finger extending, almost as if powered by some invisible force. Maybe I'm just trying to appeal to a younger, edgier demo, too.

Featuring FET instrument inputs, "Enhance" switch, and innovative input stage, this pedal is designed to solve challenges like poor feel, setting levels, and ease of use.

Read MoreShow less

Ted’s to-go kits: the silver box and the Big Black Bag.

Traveling with a collection of spare essentials—from guitar and mic cables to extension cords, capos, tuners, and maybe even a mini-amp—can be the difference between a show and a night of no-go.

Anyone who’s seen a spy flick or caper movie knows about go bags—the always-packed-and-ready duffles or attachés filled with passports, a few weapons, and cash that’s ready to grab and run with when the hellhounds are on your trail. As guitar players, we also need go bags, but their contents are less dramatic, unless, maybe, you’re playing a Corleone-family wedding.

Read MoreShow less

Firebirds came stock with a solid G-logo tailpiece, although Bigsby vibratos were often added.

Photo by George Aslaender

The author’s PX-6131 model is an example of vintage-guitar evolution that offers nostalgic appeal in the modern world—and echoes of AC/DC’s Malcolm Young.

An old catchphrase among vintage dealers used to run: “All Gretsches are transition models.” While their near-constant evolution was considered confusing, today their development history is better understood. This guitar however is a true transition model, built just as the Jet line was undergoing major changes in late 1961.

Read MoreShow less
DØVYDAS & John Bohlinger Busk in Downtown Nashville
DØVYDAS & Bohlinger Busk in Downtown Nashville Before We Give Takamine Guitar & Fishman Amp to Local

Then we give a Takamine guitar & Fishman amp to an up-and-coming Nashville musician.

Music City is always swirling with top-notch musicians performing anywhere they can, so Takamine and Fishman challenged PG's John Bohlinger to take his talents downtown to—gig on the street—where he ran into YouTube sensation DØVYDAS and hands over his gear to rising star Tera Lynne Fister.

Read MoreShow less