12 Greatest Female Electric Guitarists

Here are 12 of the greatest female electric guitar players to ever pick up the instrument.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
0

"You can caress [a guitar] like a woman," says Jimmy Page in the opening of It Might Get Loud, a new documentary by Davis Guggenheim that invites electric-guitar virtuosos Page, U2's The Edge, and Jack White to meet on an L.A. soundstage, tell their guitar stories, and do a little impromptu jamming.

In theaters now, it's the kind of gripping music doc that could inspire girls and boys everywhere to ditch Guitar Hero for a real Stratocaster. And yet, as good as it is, we couldn't help but think, why no female guitarist in the bunch? Could be that since the electric guitar's popularity blossomed in the mid-twentieth century, collective wisdom has suggested that great female guitarists simply don't exist. Take Rolling Stone's 2003 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Only two women, Joni Mitchell and Joan Jett, were honored.

In a Washington Post article written in response to Rolling Stone's list, the writer suggests that as interest in electric guitar was revving up in the '60s, women weren't encouraged to step out of their ladylike gender roles, leaving them with an impossible game of catch-up to Jimi Hendrix and Page. Maybe. But Kelley Deal, lead guitarist of the Breeders, doesn't buy it. "I think we do exist," she says, "but in a different capacity. Guys really like to hear themselves talk. Women guitarists seem more song-oriented. What they choose to play contributes to making the song better, not just riffing all over it. It's a deeper relationship." And it's a relationship that could helm its own documentary (cough, cough, Mr. Guggenheim). In the meantime, here are 12 of the greatest female electric guitar players to ever pick up the instrument:

  • Joan Jett

    A no-nonsense player who in only a few strums can get an entire barroom howling her 1982 hit, "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." That kind of power, often amplified by painted-on leather pants, sets the bar high for Twilight's Kristen Stewart, who's playing Jett in an upcoming Runaways biopic.

  • Lita Ford

    After jamming with Jett as lead guitarist in the Runaways, Lita Ford took her pop-metal shedder sound solo and hired fellow rocker chick Sharon Osbourne as her manager. In 1988, she released Lita, a sexy riff-filled album that not only pleased rockers with its head-banging tunes but also got mainstreamers in the pit, especially with "Close My Eyes Forever," her duet with the prince of darkness Ozzy Osbourne.

  • Nancy Wilson

    Only a few seconds into the riff of Heart's "Barracuda" and you know that only Nancy Wilson could knock you over with solos that beg to be air-guitared. Which makes us even more excited to hear that Nancy and sister Ann are preparing a new album slated for next summer.

  • Jennifer Batten

    Jennifer Batten's shredding is just as outrageous as her platinum-spiked locks, both of which must have caught the attention of Michael Jackson, who called on her to play Eddie Van Halen's "Beat It" guitar solo on his Bad, Dangerous, and HIStory tours. Watch video here.

  • Donita Sparks

    Donita Sparks, the woman behind '80s girl group L7's guitar-heavy riffs, gave birth to boozy garage grunge (download "Pretend We're Dead," or play your own version on Rock Band 2), as well as her own group, Donita Sparks + the Stellar Moments, whose 2008 Transmiticate proves she hasn't lost her hard-rock edge.

  • Kelley Deal

    Kelley Deal didn't pick up the guitar until she was 30, but that's the reason her disheveled playing for the Breeders (and later the Kelley Deal 6000) moves us. It's untrained, uncalculated, and completely unreal.

  • Carrie Brownstein

    Sleater-Kinney could have fallen into obscurity like some of their '90s indie-rock classmates (what ever happened to Joan Osborne?) but not with Carrie Brownstein's riotous wailing, especially Page-like in the group's 2002 record, One Beat. And lately, she's taken to blogging for NPR.

  • Poison Ivy

    The Cramps were playing envelope-pushing '80s psychobilly before it became mainstream in the '90s and influenced bands like the Black Lips, the Jesus And Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. With Poison Ivy on the ax (and late husband Lux Interior on vocals), her garage-punk attitude, though totally hard-core, seemed to come from a place of love. Creepy, fetish-filled love.

  • Ruyter Suys

    When her band Nashville Pussy plays live, lead guitarist Ruyter Suys whips her fiery red mane back and forth and lies on the stage floor (sometimes in only her underwear), all while creating the high-pitch electric screams that frame their "good old-fashioned, humping-in-the-back-seat-of-a-car rock 'n' roll," as Suys describes it to Rolling Stone.

  • The Great Kat

    Of all the shredders on our list, Juilliard-trained violinist the Great Kat (aka Katherine Thomas) is the most mind-bogglingly fast. Watch her fingers do the talking in the Beethoven Mush video here. (Or just imagine the composer's electrical symphony on amphetamines.)

  • Marnie Stern

    Marnie Stern's twitchy rhythms and face-melting licks take what we love about Eddie Van Halen's fast-paced playing and paints it with a rock-girl feel. On her second record, This Is It (2008), Stern is a virtuosic badass.

  • Orianthi

    At 24, Australian newcomer Orianthi's melodic wailing has already been endorsed by Carlos Santana ("If I was going to pass the baton to someone, she would be my first choice," he told the Aussie Today show) and Michael Jackson handpicked her for what would have been his comeback tour.

    Thanks for the report to Elle.com.

  • 153 comments sorted by best / new / date

    comments policy
      Reighnart
      Dude, I think it's great that some of these great guitarists are getting their props, but this list is a joke.
      NakedInTheRain
      Good to see Marnie Stern on here. She's only been around for a few years, but she has some really good stuff.
      Shamanic Rhythm
      Oh great, so that they cut Joni Mitchell out of it by limiting it to 'Electric' guitarists. Notice that no one ever does that with other 'greatest guitarist lists' - because doing so would negate truly pivotal people like Robert Johnson. Why should they have to make this distinction here?
      rebeltildeth87
      W35M4N wrote: Liz Buckingham
      I dont know that shes all that great, but shes hotter than hell and plays kickass tunes
      vIsIbleNoIsE
      rebeltildeth87 wrote: what the **** has happened to this world. Zeppelin gets a boost in popularity and all the sudden everyones lietcetc...
      i'm pretty sure the emphasis was on the edge and jack white. surely you cannot make the same argument for these guys as you did for page?
      Blind Messiah
      I think the biggest problem with this list is that the best female guitarists aren't recognized at all. This list is a compilation of all the electric guitar players who happen to be females. I love the Breeders, but Kelly Deal isn't anything technically impressive or mind blowing. I know a local girl who smokes just about all of these women, but when you're a girl, and in a technical death metal band, (even though she is especially pretty) the odds of getting recognized are stacked against you. All this list says to me is that more girls need to step up to the plate, and the men in the bizz have to give them the same props as any male guitarist.
      slashNpage77
      frickin' "Great" Kate, she's so sloppy, its almost humorous, except its too sloppy even for a laugh and you just feel bad for her band mates
      Wesseem
      Jet_Black88 wrote: I was going to mention Kaki King as well. That's just wrong, really.
      i don't think kaki really plays electric. if she does then it's very seldom.
      ns9977a
      Off the radar for the American mainstream, but how about Wata of Boris. I saw them live with Michio Kurihara of Ghost, and they had a stage presence that reminded me a lot of The Who, with Wata taking on John Entwistle's stoic intensity.
      rocklee1431
      ThatWouldBeJon wrote: what about that chick guitarist from all that remains?! or is she a bassist?
      i think she plays bass unless they have 3 guitarists (which is a possibility)
      MCRandRHCPfan
      S.U.S.A.N. T.E.D.E.S.C.H.I.?!!!! WHERE IS SUSAN?! check out her playing with her husband, DEREK TRUCKS, at CROSSROADS, playing BUDDY GUY. need i say more?!!?!?!??!?!??!??! shes fantastic! she writes her own stuff!!!!! I love Susan Tedeschi!!! What the hell UG! What the Hell?! You could have edited the list!
      rootbeerjuice
      As that fellow up there said, Susan Tedeschi could do with some recognition. Otherwise, list seems good.
      SkepsisMetal
      Brody Dalle? Morgan Lander? Gabriela Quintero? Charo? My god, the only ones worthy of this list are Nancy and Jett
      SumFX
      Brody Dalle (The Distillers) should be on there, THE riff from Drain The Blood truly is way better and more memorable than most of the material written by those others on that list.
      MXFNCK
      USCENDONE BENE wrote: What about Dave Mustaine? Or Courtney Love? Ahaha
      hahaha, thats funny
      MethLabForCutie
      so the only notable female guitarists come from the 80s pop-metal and 90s grunge genres? ....thats probably why. these people, whatever their sex, dont come anywhere close to the guitarists recognized on Rolling Stones list, even though that list is complete horseshit
      Tea Cup
      "You can caress [a guitar] like a woman," says Jimmy Page I wonder if he was as sloppy with his lovin'
      NaivexLi
      Orianthi is my personal favorite up on the list. SHe is there, therefore I am happy.
      rebeltildeth87
      Portuguese_boy wrote: Wow, Page, the Edge and Jack White are now considered guitar virtuosos??
      slaptasticdave wrote: While I definitely don't hate any of these guys, none of them are virtuosos
      what the **** has happened to this world. Zeppelin gets a boost in popularity and all the sudden everyones like "Jimmy Page is overrated", "he sucks", "hes not very good". He is the very definition of a virtuoso. Do you even know what the term Virtuosity means? A virtuoso is well rounded, and highly skilled in their craft. To anybody who doesnt see the magic of his work, have you listened to anything but Stairway to Heaven? Not only did this guy write 90% of the music, he structured and produced it all. His playing is incredible intricate and well thought out. Even his improvisions. No, Jimmy Page doesnt play 200 notes a second, but his playing is everything good music is about. It takes you somewhere. as far as this list goes, I dont know half of the chicks listed but the only one I know to be list worth is Nancy Wilson. She does as good as most guy guitarists, if not better.
      guitarnoob_100
      I think Kaki King uses electrics doesn't she? Nice to see Nancy Wilson and Joan Jett, two awesome rockers, but my favorite is Orianthi, beautiful AND talented.
      menotbug
      Two years late, but had to add a thumb up for Lori Linstruth. Pity she was only mentioned thrice in 151 comments. The best usage of wah and tremolo I've heard in the female guitar world. My favourite Lori song, "If" (instrumental), is a fine example of her guitar mastery. Check it here if you like: http://www.myspace.com/lorilinstruth/mus... -full-version-50688633
      sleeler69
      I'm a fan of Joan Jett, and if this was a "most popular" or "most famous" female guitar player, then she would belong on the list. But not a top 12 female guitar player.
      Nebblacktip
      Hyperboy111 wrote: "You can caress [a guitar] like a woman"... Why is "a guitar" in brackets? Same with anything else like that. People put key words in square brackets in a lot of interviews. Why??
      Because he probably said something like "You can caress it like a woman" and Journalists will put "A guitar" in square brackets for clarification, even though it isn't exactly what was said. As for this list, it's nice, and Nancy Wilson deserves to be on every "World's greatest guitarist list" not just the women only ones, but if often overlooked for some reason. She's incredibly versatile, just compare Magic Man and Crazy on You, off the same album. But I admit, this list should have been a top twenty at least. Brody Dalle, Chrissie Hynde, Michelle Oliver, Miho Hatori, or Flavia Canel. Combined with some of the other guitarists I've never heard of here in the comments (and will now have to check out) I bet a decent top twenty would be easy. Do some more research UG!
      TheWickerMan666
      Les Paul Ell wrote: this list should just be called '10 female guitarists we've heard of'. i'd love to see more women in rock, but till now the guitarists have been totally unremarkable and their talent gets blown out of proportion just because of their gender. As unlikely as it is, before I die i'd love to hear a woman who's a real innovator on the instrument.
      I agree with this. A lot of people go on about sexism, and how females aren't given a proper chance in music (I'm not talking about girl-bands here ), but personally, I don't care who plays what instrument, as long as it sounds good. This list seems quite discriminative, albeit positively. It's good that these people are being recognised, but it shouldn't be because they're female guitarists. If they don't make it into Top 100 guitarist lists because they're not in the top 100, that's fine by me. If it's 'cause they're women, then there's a problem. Anyway, why's Jack White keep being referred to as a virtuoso all of a sudden by UG? Also, I've not really heard of any of the people on that list
      Digger Rup
      As a guitarist, I'd probably put Lita Ford one place ahead of Joan Jett but never mind the Joannie's-cum-lately or the one-hit wonders from college radio; they all pale in the presence of the late great Kelly Johnson (Girlschool). A brilliant guitarist, fantastic songwriter, great singer and sad loss; no-one could pull a lick and sneer a vocal at the same time like our (their) Kelly.
      pixgalor
      eh, if you really know about guitarists, then you know shrapnell records and mike varney (guitar player mag spotlight columnist) he signed and recorded an all female band about twenty years ago called phantom blue - they bost two of the most accomplished guitarists i've ever heard male or female - check out video of "going mad" on youtube - mind blowing guitar solo
      sleeler69
      Phantom Blue was a great band that I still listen to today. Michelle Meldrum(R.I.P.) and Nicole Couch are very good GUITARISTS, and not just cuz they are female and Ruyter Suys is just as good of a guitar player as any of the more popular players in better known bands. I mean really, Angus Young is great live and has his own style and sound that you know the minute you hear the first note. But he's no vurtuoso. Although on just about any list he would be considered top 5-10-15. He's definately one of my top 10 favorite players. Even though I know there are more talented and technically sound players than him. And if Tim Pierce was 20 years younger and had discovered hair club for men sooner, he would be a guitar god. Posterized on every guitar players wall. Instead, he's considered just GREAT session player, or a nice addition in a solo acts back line. I guess my long drawn out point is, there are many factors that come into play when compiling a list like this. Even if they try to say that it's strictly based on talent/technique or what ever, it never is just about that one thing.
      Hyperboy111
      "You can caress [a guitar] like a woman"... Why is "a guitar" in brackets? Same with anything else like that. People put key words in square brackets in a lot of interviews. Why??