The Best Female Guitarists Of All Time
Female rock stars, specifically guitarists, are some of the greatest in the industry. Many of these ladies paved the way for modern female rockers, creating a solid foundation of style and tracks for them to work off.
From nine-time Grammy Award winner Joni Mitchell to The Bangles secret weapon Vicki Peterson, these ladies shred on the guitar like no tomorrow.
Sometimes called the Queen Mother of Guitar, Peggy Jones was a pioneer of rock and roll, playing rhythm guitar in the Bo Diddley’s band from the late 1950s to the early 1960s.
The first female guitarist in a major rock and roll band, Jones was only 16 when she began playing on some of Bo’s hit singles, “Crackin Up,” “Mona,” and “Road Runner.”
Technical skill, tapping style, quick fingers, and overall precision are what come to mind when thinking about the talent of guitarist Marnie Stern. She has been named one of the greatest female guitarists of all time by numerous publications, including Elle and Spin Magazine.
As of 2022, she is the lead guitarist of Late Night with Seth Meyers’ 8G Band; the talk shows house band.
In 1988, Melissa Etheridge became an underground sensation with her self-titled debut album. It wasn’t until 1993 that she became a mainstream success, eventually garnering 15 Grammy nominations, winning two.
She’s known for playing her acoustic guitar like she’s in the middle of an arena and it’s an electric guitar hooked up to an amp.
Bonnie Raitt began making a name for herself in the 1970s, quickly showing off her blues, folk, country, and rock sound that captured people’s attention when she performed on stage.
On one of Rolling Stones lists, Raitt was named one of the “Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” winning ten competitive Grammy Awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
One of the greatest female rock and roll legends is arguably Joan Jett. A punk rock girl at heart, Jett led The Runaways and later The Blackhearts to fame with her precision and urgency on her guitar.
Described as the “Queen of Rock and Roll,” Jett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
Wendy Melvoin is arguably best known for her work with Prince, a happenstance occurrence that put her on the map.
In his movie Purple Rain, the iconic singer cemented Melvoin as one of the greatest guitarists in history, pinpointing her contributions to rock and roll and her involvement in creating the title of his hit single Purple Rain. Amazingly, she was only 19 at the time!
Nancy Wilson rose to fame in the late 1960s as the guitarist and background vocalist of the band Heart. Blending various styles into her playing, including flamenco, hard rock, and classical, Gibson ranked Wilson as the eighth-greatest female guitarist of all time.
Some of her amazing work can be found in the songs “Magic Man, “Baraccuda,” and “Crazy on You.”
Kristy Wallace ( Poison Ivy)
Known for their wild live performances and unusual rockabilly-inspired music, guitarist Kristy Wallace, better known as Poison Ivy, helped The Cramps gain a worldwide cult following and, later, commercial success.
Thanks to her skilled riffs and solos, Wallace is widely considered one of the greatest female guitarists of all time.
According to Vicki Peterson, “I was a kid who brought her guitar to every sleep-over and summer afternoon in the park to play her newest creation to anyone who would listen….”
Peterson has been the lead guitarist for The Bangles since their formation back in the 1980s. She is pretty much their secret weapon, evolving with the times from a garage band to showing off amazing leads when a song called for it.
In the late 1970s, Lita Ford was the lead guitarist for the female rock band The Runaways. While Joan Jett was the heart of the band, The Runaways would have fallen flat without Ford’s edgy riffs, hooks, and solos.
After going solo, Ford was widely considered one of the best guitarists to come out of the 80s punk rock and glam metal scene.
Kristin Hersh is known to be a pioneering indie-rock guitarist, with furious power cords on an electric guitar one second to elegant sounds on an acoustic the next.
With a style that ranges from traditional folk to something that lacks actual harmony, Hersh is known for playing in then bands Throwing Muses and 50FootWaves.
Joining a gospel choir in her youth, Susan Tedeschi’s musical style always seemed to veer towards blues and R&B. Interestingly; her style grew after meeting her jazz-influenced husband, making her an amazing talent.
She has played alongside some big names in music, including The Allman Brothers and even Eric Clapton.
Often referred to as the First Lady of the Guitar, Liona Boyd was given her first guitar when she was 13 years old. From there, she didn’t put it down and wound up playing Carnegie Hall in 1975.
Originally a classical guitarist, Boyd later moved on to New Age music to keep up with the times.
When it comes to nine-time Grammy Award-winning artist Joni Mitchell, AllMusic says, “When the dust settles, Joni Mitchell may stand as the most important and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century.”
On the scene since 1965, Mitchell draws her sound from various genres, including jazz, folk, pop, rock, and even classical. Some of her most popular and well-known songs as “Woodstock” and “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Emily Remler began playing guitar at the age of ten, listening to rock legends like Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter. Later in her life, Remler switched up her style and began to play with more of a jazz influence.
She became a pioneer of the modern age, especially during the be-bop tradition.
Lizzie Douglas (Memphis Minnie)
Lizzie Douglas, better known as Memphis Minnie, was ten years old when she taught herself how to play the guitar and 11 when she learned the banjo. A pioneer of finger pickers, Minnie was legendary in the Memphis blues scene.
A talented guitarist and singer, Minnie’s career lasted well over three decades.
Elizabeth Cotten has an interesting story of how she found her folk and blues style originated. A left-handed child, Cotten learned how to play the banjo by taking her brother’s and playing it upside down!
Moving on to guitar, she had the instincts of a banjo player and became a trailblazer for her intense finger-picking thumb-strumming melodies.
Sharon Isbin is a classical guitarist who appeared as a soloist with over 200 various orchestras. Not only that, but her talent led her to become the founder and director of the guitar department of the Julliard School in New York.
A six-time Grammy Award-winner, Isbin was called “the pre-eminent guitarist of our time” by Boston magazine.
Recording over an estimated 10,000 sessions, Carol Kaye is one of the most prolific recorded bass guitarists in rock and pop music history. During her career, Kaye has played with the likes of Frank Zappa, Neil Young, Frank Sinatra, and even Brian Wilson.
An extremely versatile player, Kaye is one of the most sought-after studio musicians on the scene.
A sister garage band formed in the 1960s, Dot Wiggin and The Shaggs were something else altogether. They created a sound no one and heard before, a trio with two guitars and no bass.
It was unconventional, and people couldn’t get enough. An outsider music group who were nothing short of amateur, Dot and her sisters proved to be more influential than many other bands of the era.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a popular gospel artist throughout the 1930s and 1940s. With her soulful voice and electric guitar, her playing is important to the beginning of rock and roll.
She’s even influenced some of the greatest rock singers in history, including Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley. In 2018, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Contemporary folk musician Joan Baez isn’t just known for her songs of social justice during the counterculture era of the 1960s. She is also known for her talent playing the guitar, shown in her self-titled debut album.
The singer, songwriter, and guitar player was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April of 2017.
Eleven-time Grammy Award-winning artist Linda Ronstadt is known for her songs “Blue Bayou,” “Don’t Know Much,” and “Somewhere Out There.” She is also one of the lucky artists who can say the Martin Guitar Company many a limited edition model named after her, a 00–42 model “Linda Ronstadt Limited Edition.”
Ronstadt also wrote the introduction to Classic Ferrington Guitars, a story about the guitar maker Danny Ferrington and the custom instruments he’d made for her over the years, proving she is one of the best guitarists out there.
Janis Joplin was one of the most successful and widely recognized artists of her era, with her strong voice, electric stage presence, and ability to play the guitar while belting out rock, soul, and blues-style lyrics.
In 1995, she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
A poet turned rock star, Patti Smith is known as the “punk poet laureate.” She fused her music together with poetry and rock, instilling a sound people couldn’t get enough of.
While there were other people in Smith’s band backing her on guitar, she was also very capable when it came to the instrument.
A singer, songwriter, and musician since a young age, Lara Nyro was one of those unique talents that taught herself how to play the piano as a child. On top of that, she was also an amazing guitar player.
And paired with her incredibly emotional vocals, it is no wonder Nyro was inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jennifer Batten is a ridiculously talented session and solo guitarist who has toured with some of the greats, playing in their bands, including Jeff Beck.
In her career, Batten has released three studio albums and has received a few awards, including the “She Rocks Icon Award” and a feature on BBC Radio 4’s series Joan Armatrading’s More Guitar Favourites.
Kaki King was listed as one of Rolling Stones’ “New Guitar Gods” in 2006, the only female artist as well as the youngest person on the entire list.
Known for her energetic shows and jazz-tinged melodies, King is one of the few artists invited to customize her own guitar with Ovation Guitar Company.
If there is one female guitarist the world should know about, it is Nita Strauss. Throughout her career, she has been lucky enough to be ranked as the number one “Female Guitar Players You Should Know” and appear on the covers of both Guitar Player and Guitar World Magazines.
She is also the guitarist for the iconic Alice Cooper!
Two-time Grammy Award-winning artist St. Vincent is known for playing a wide variety of instruments during her performances, including the guitar.
Playing with a few bands before creating her own in 2006, St. Vincent has released six studio albums as of 2021, including Marry Me, Actor, Love This Giant, and Strange Mercy.
Tina Setkic is one of those rare souls who doesn’t go for the easy music.
Instead, this French guitarist has made a name for herself, covering many heavy metal and rock songs by the likes of Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd, Van Halen, and even metal-influenced covers of some of Beethoven!
Badi Assad has played guitar all her life and studied classical guitar at the University of Rio de Janeiro. There, she actually won the Young Instrumentalists Contest and was invited to play with the Guitar Orchestra of Rio de Janeiro.
It wasn’t long before she was named the “Best Brazilian Guitarist.”
Mary Ford was a vocalist and guitar player in the band Les Paul and Mary Ford. They’re the ones who popularized the song “Vaya con Dios,” one of their 16 top-ten hits that graced the number one spot on the Billboard charts.
Along with her husband, Ford became one of the earliest artists to use multi-tracking to record different sounds at different times and bring them together as a whole.
The frontwoman for the math rock band Covet, Yvette Young, has been playing guitar and singing from a very young age. She taught herself how to play guitar using nothing but her ear to see if the notes sounded correct.
During an interview, Young said, “I write with my ear, so I’m not really in a box in terms of chord shapes. And I don’t use [traditional] shapes at all, which freaks a lot of people out!”
The lead guitarist and vocalist of the progressive rock band The Breeders since 1992, Kelley Deal, was actually invited to play with the popular band the Pixies in the 1980s but opted to move to California and get a job in computer programming.
She soon found herself back on the music scene, though, picking up a guitar and shredding with her own band.
“Mother” Maybelle Carter
“Mother” Maybelle Carter is arguably best known for her time in the folk group the Carter Family. Then, from the late 1920s until the early 1940s, she played guitar with the Carter Sisters.
Her guitar of choice was a 1928 Gibson L-5 as well as a Gibson L-1 banjo and autoharp.
Deborah Coleman was a blues musician who was awarded and recognized for her contributions to the industry. She was nominated for the W.C. Handy Blues Music Award nine times while winning the Orville Gibson Award for “Best Blues Guitarist, Female.”
Playing the guitar since she was eight years old, Coleman played at some huge events, including the San Francisco Blues Festival, the Sarasota Blues Festival, and the Fountain Blues Festival.
Katherine Thomas, “The Great Kat”
Katherine Thomas, aka “The Great Kat,” isn’t like typical guitarists. She takes well-known classic pieces and makes them into thrash metal, using her electric guitar in intricate ways to showcase her epic style.
Originally a classically trained violinist at the Julliard School, The Great Kat is now considered one of the “Fastest Shredders of All Time.”
While Gretchen Menn does solo work, she is arguably best known for being the lead guitarist of Zepparella, an all-female tribute band to Led Zeppelin. Menn began playing guitar as a teenager and has since made the top slots of numerous “best guitarist and player” lists.
Some of her mentions include Guitar Player Magazine’s “50 Years of Extraordinary Players,” a nomination for Vintage Guitar Magazine’s s ‘Artist of the Year,” and Guitar Player Magazine’s “50 Sensational Female Guitarists.”
Chrissie Hynde is one of the founding members of the rock band The Pretenders. She has been their lead guitarist since 1978 and is one of two original members as of 2020.
But being with the band didn’t stop her from recording music with the likes of Cher, Frank Sinatra, and U2! In 2005, Hynde was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.