Girl power is taking over the music industry and the world’s best female guitar players are leading the charge. From shredding on the electric guitar to fingerpicking on the acoustic, these women are breaking barriers and proving that talent knows no gender. Get ready to be inspired by their skill and passion as we count down the top 13 influential female guitarists in the game.
Breaking Barriers and Shredding Stereotypes
When it comes to the world of influential guitarists, the names that often come to mind are those of men – Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Eddie Van Halen, to name a few. Throughout history, countless female guitarists have made significant contributions to the music industry and left a lasting impact on music, just as their male counterparts have.
In this blog post, we will be taking a look at some of the best female guitarists in music history, delving into their impact, and examining how they have helped to break down barriers and shatter stereotypes.
Join us as we honor and celebrate these remarkable female guitarists and their influence on the world of music.
Influential Female Guitarists
There are many ways to define “best,” but in this context, we will be highlighting female guitarists with their exceptional skill and innovative approach. These women have not only made a significant impact on the industry but have also left a lasting legacy that continues to inspire future generations of both male and female guitarists.
- Joni Mitchell, 1943
- Bonnie Raitt, 1949
- Kaki King 1979
- Lita Ford, 1958
- Muriel Anderson, 1960
- Memphis Minnie, 1897
- Mother Maybelle Carter, 1963
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 1915
- Nancy Wilson, 1954
- Sharon Isbin
- Elizabeth Cotten, 1893
- Liona Boyd, 1949
- Joan Jett, 1958
Mitchell, one of the most impactful singer-songwriters to come out of the 1960s folk music scene, established herself through her deeply personal lyrics and unique compositions. As her career progressed, she incorporated elements of pop and jazz, further establishing her place as a leading artist in the industry.
Her life changed when she contracted polio at the age of nine. The illness forced her to develop unique and unconventional tunings, breaking the mold and allowing her to explore new territory as a musician. This experience led her to become a trailblazer in her craft.
Mitchell’s signature playing style was characterized by her percussive slaps, intricate fingerpicking, use of quintal and quartal harmonies, pedal points, and chromaticism, which made her stand out among other guitarists. She was held in high regard and respected even among male guitarists, often compared to legendary figures such as Bob Dylan.
Joni Mitchell, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, is considered one of the most iconic and influential female guitarists of all time. Her nine Grammy Awards and the acclaim of music experts solidify her status as one of the most important female recording artists of the late 20th century. Aspiring guitarists can look to Mitchell as a musician to emulate, considering her impressive contributions and influence on the music industry.
In the 1980s and 1990s, female guitarists began to gain even more visibility and recognition. One of the guitarists who helped to pave the way for this was Bonnie Raitt. She was an American blues and rock singer and songwriter who was also a skilled guitarist. She was known for her powerful and emotive playing style and was a major influence on many other female guitarists.
Raitt is a versatile musician who excels in the genres of country, rock, and blues. She is also known for her collaborations and session work with other artists. Her exceptional guitar skills allow her to shape music in a way that deeply connects with the audience. Even singer and influential guitarist David Crosby has recognized her talent, stating that Raitt is his all-time favorite singer.
Bonnie Raitt is a guitar music icon with an impressive list of awards:
- 10 Grammy Awards,
- Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award,
- Ranked 50 in Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”,
- Placement on the magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”,
- Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- Icon Award from the Billboard Women in Music Awards.
Kaki King is widely considered one of the world’s premier female guitarists and was recognized as such by Rolling Stone, being the only woman and the youngest artist on their list of “The New Guitar Gods”.
King demonstrates exceptional skill on both lap steel and her signature Ovation Kaki King acoustic guitar. She also acquired proficiency in playing the drums. She has created a unique guitar playing style that incorporates percussive techniques, seamlessly blending her passion for both the guitar and percussion instruments. Her music encompasses a wide range of styles, including modern classical, progressive jazz and pop, and her virtuosic talents shine through in all of them.
Kaki King is a highly productive guitar player and composer, consistently releasing albums at a rate of almost one per year from 2003 to 2015. After taking a few years off, she returned to the studio scene in 2020 with her latest album, Modern Yesterdays.
Lita Rossana Ford, hailing from London, challenges the notion that heavy metal is a genre exclusive to male bands. She broke barriers and paved the way for female guitarists in the genre, proving that female guitar players can also shred and play heavy and hard-hitting music just as well as their male counterparts, while sporting costumes and hairdos just as wild.
She rose to fame as the lead guitarist of the all-female rock band “The Runaways” in the late 1970s. Then, she embarked on a successful solo career in glam metal, reaching her peak in the late 1980s. Ford is known for her impressive guitar skills and versatility.
Even though Lita doesn’t have a Grammy award, her work in the glam metal genre is still admirable. Lita Ford is an accomplished musician, songwriter, singer, and guitarist, who has inspired many guitarists in the genre and has captivating hooks and riffs that are powerful.
Muriel Anderson, an American fingerstyle and harp guitarist, made history by being the first woman to win the National Fingerpicking Guitar Championship and is considered one of the world’s foremost fingerstyle guitarists.
Anderson’s exceptional talent and technical prowess allow her to seamlessly blend elements of classical, country, flamenco, and jazz into her playing style, showcasing her versatility as a musician and her refusal to be confined to a single genre.
Muriel Anderson has had the privilege to be mentored by Chet Atkins and shared the stage with him and other influential guitarists such as Tommy Emmanuel, and Victor Wooten, and has also released over 20 albums throughout her career.
Another early female guitarist who made a significant impact was Memphis Minnie (born Lizzie Douglas). She was a multi-talented American blues musician who was active as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter for over three decades and had a lasting impact on the blues genre. Minnie was known for her powerful and expressive or virtuosic playing style and was a major influence on many other blues female guitarists.
She made a name for herself by performing on the renowned Beale Street in Memphis in her teens. She was not only an exceptional guitarist, but also known for her boldness and determination, evidenced by her willingness to compete against Blues greats like Big Bill Broonzy in contests and emerge victorious.
Her song, “When the Levee Breaks“, became popular and has been covered by many artists, including Led Zeppelin, who included a version on their album.
She was one of the most successful and influential female blues musicians of her time, and was a major influence on later generations of blues and rock musicians. She recorded over 200 songs and she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and was given the title of “Queen of the Blues.”
Mother Maybelle Carter
Mother Maybelle Carter was an American country musician, songwriter, and guitarist, who was a member of the legendary Carter Family band. She was born in 1909 and began performing with her family at an early age. She was known for her fingerpicking style of guitar playing, which was characterized by its precision and speed. She was considered one of the most influential guitarists of her time, and her playing style was highly sought after by other musicians. She’s one of the first to use the guitar as a lead instrument and was identified to use at least three or four distinct playing styles.
Among these, the “Carter Scratch” or “thumb-lead style” stands out as her most iconic and widely recognized. This technique involves using the thumb to play the melody on the top three strings and the index finger to play the rhythm on the lower strings. This technique revolutionized the way the guitar was used in country music, as it demonstrated that the guitar could be a lead instrument as well. Her unique style has served as inspiration for many lead guitarists and has become an integral part of the country music tradition.
Maybelle Carter and Sara Carter became the first female performers to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970, as members of the Original Carter Family. Her contributions to the country music genre have solidified her legacy as one of the most important guitar music icons in the history of country music.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
One of the most influential early female guitarists was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She was an American singer, and guitarist who played a major role in the development of rock and roll.
She was known for her dynamic and expressive guitar playing style, which has had a major influence on many musicians, including Elvis Presley.
Tharpe’s groove, energy, and passion make her an inspiration to many. Her music is simply contagious and it’s hard not to be moved by her talent. Her impact on the world of music continues to be felt to this day.
She was one of the first popular recording artists to use heavy distortion on her electric guitar, paving the way for the rise of electric blues and influencing the development of British blues in the 1960s. Tharpe’s guitar playing fused melodic urban blues with traditional folk structures, featuring a lively, rhythmic swing that foreshadowed the emergence of rock and roll.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a pioneering figure in gospel music, known as “The Original Soul Sister” and “The Godmother of Rock and Roll” for her ability to appeal to both gospel and secular audiences. She was one of the first gospel musicians to incorporate elements of rhythm and blues and rock and roll into her music, laying the foundation for the rise of pop-gospel. Her pioneering style and impact continue to inspire and influence musicians across generations in both gospel and secular music.
Nancy Wilson, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, played a significant role in shaping the sound of rock and roll through her blending of classical guitar styles and flamenco elements with hard rock. This unique style earned her recognition as one of the world’s top female guitarists of all time by Gibson.
Wilson, backing and occasional lead vocalist, is a renowned American musician known for her exceptional guitar skills and powerful solos as a member of the rock band Heart. Alongside her older sister Ann, she has captivated audiences with her masterful fingerpicking and ability to seamlessly transition between electric and acoustic guitar. Her skill and musicianship have become a highlight in Heart’s sound, making her a standout in the industry.
One of the world’s premier classical guitarists, Sharon Isbin is a Grammy award-winning guitar music icon and the founding director of the guitar department at the Juilliard School.
Isbin’s passion for music lies in the realm of classical, setting her apart from many other female guitarists who are known for their work in genres such as blues, country, rock, and jazz.
Her exceptional fingerstyle and classical technique has earned her the title of “the pre-eminent guitarist of our time” according to Boston magazine. She has performed with over 200 orchestras worldwide, and has commissioned more concertos than any other guitarist, cementing her place as a master of the classical guitar.
A legendary folk and blues musician, Elizabeth Cotten, was renowned for her unique playing style, which involved using a right-handed guitar upside-down and developing her own technique, known as “Cotten Picking.”
She was a self-taught left-handed guitarist. Her signature alternating bass style, “Cotten picking,” involves using her fingers to play the bass lines and her thumb to play the melody. Despite playing a right-handed guitar upside down, she was able to master it and make a significant impact on the folk and blues music scene.” To fully grasp the level of skill and virtuosity Elizabeth Cotten possessed, one must try playing guitar in that same odd position, as she did.
Even after a 25-year hiatus from music, her exceptional skills and unique playing style were eventually recognized and celebrated by fellow musicians. She went on to perform publicly and record her music again in her 60s. True talent will always find its way to the surface and Elizabeth Cotten’s was no exception.
Liona Boyd, a classic guitar music icon, has earned the title of “First Lady of the Guitar” in the music industry. Even the renowned king of the classical guitar of Spain, Andres Segovia, recognized her beauty and talent and believed it would win over any audience, whether they were fans of classical music or not.
She’s as vibrant as her music and continues to inspire and captivate audiences with her virtuosic playing and charming stage presence. Liona Boyd played alongside Eric Clapton, Chet Atkins, Olivia Newton-John, and many other guitar music icons.
Finally, we can’t miss the “Queen of Rock and Roll”, Joan Jett, who has made a name for herself as one of the most influential female rock guitarists of all time.
Joan Jett is an American singer, songwriter, and guitarist who is best known as the lead singer of the band Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. She is known for her powerful singing style, as well as her ability to convey raw emotion through her guitar playing. Her music is characterized by its rock and roll edge and her performances are known for their energy and attitude.
Jett’s playing style is heavily influenced by classic rock and roll, and she has been known to use a variety of different techniques, including power chords, palm-muted riffs, and solos.
Throughout her career, Jett has achieved numerous accolades and awards for her contributions to music. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, and has been honored with numerous other awards, including the Golden God Award in 2014. Jett continues to tour and perform to this day and remains a strong influence and inspiration to many up-and-coming musicians.
Start Your Journey Today!
As we have seen, these female guitarists have made history in music. They were innovators, pioneers, and game-changers in their own right. They have been an inspiration to many and their legacy lives on.
Let their stories remind you that it is never too late to start your journey in music. Take inspiration from their courage, and hard work, and let it fuel your own journey as a musician. Whether you’re drawn to the blues, rock, jazz, or classical, a trailblazer in music history blazed the path for you.
So, pick up your guitar and start your journey today – the world is waiting to hear your unique voice and style, so don’t wait any longer.