The Quick Report

The 10 Most Legendary Women Rock Guitarists

Guitar fame seems to go to the “good old boy club.” Ironically, guitars were considered women’s instruments in the 18th and 19th centuries. As these legendary women prove, guitar virtuosity doesn’t care about gender!

10. Orianthi

Justin Higuchi via Wikipedia

After first receiving attention playing guitar for Carrie Underwood, Orianthi was pegged for the lead guitar slot for Michael Jackson’s final tour but that never came to be. As a young prodigy, she traded licks with Steve Vai at age 15, jammed with Carlos Santana at 18, performed a duet with Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, and toured with Alice Cooper.

In her solo career, Orianthi’s debut single “According to You” hit #3 in Japan, #8 in Australia, and #17 in the US. Guitar International magazine named her the “2010 Breakthrough Guitarist of the Year.” Elle magazine named her among the “12 Greatest Female Electric Guitarists.”

9. Lita Ford

Rufus via Wikipedia

The 1970s all-female rock band the Runaways, was a novelty in some ways at the time. Lead guitarist Lita Ford was overshadowed by singer Cherie Curry who found some acting fame, and rhythm guitarist Joan Jett who went on to a huge solo career.

Ford found the spotlight in 1983 when her single “Kiss Me Deadly” reached #12 on the charts. Then she reached the Top Ten with her duet with Ozzy Osbourne, “Close My Eyes Forever.” Her work on her solo release “Out for Blood,” showed she could shred guitar with the best of them. Her next album, “Dancin’ on the Edge,” also yielded 2 hit singles.

8. Charo

Youtube | Anthony P. de Held

With her catchphrase “cuchi-cuchi” and her high-energy, comedic posturing, many people don’t take Charo seriously. But her abilities on guitar are deadly serious. Beyond her stage persona is a world-class, virtuoso guitarist of classical and flamenco stylings. Charo began playing classical guitar at age 9 and trained under the master Andrés Segovia.

Charo altered her style to reach pop fame. Her first US dance hit came in 1977 with “Dance a Little Bit Closer” which hit #18. 1978’s “Olé Olé” reached #36. Charo is still cranking out hits. 2008’s “España Cañi” reached #14 on the US Dance charts, and 2011’s “Sexy Sexy” at #24.

7. Susan Tedeschi

Chris Hakkens via Wikipedia

A member of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, along with her husband Derek Trucks, himself considered the world’s greatest slide guitarist, Susan holds her own. The Tedeschi Trucks Band should be viewed as a group with two great guitarists, end of story. Observers have known that their collaboration has caused them both to grow. Derek has picked up Susan’s R&B sensibilities, and she has absorbed his jazz leanings.


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She formed the Susan Tedeschi Band in 1993 and was opening for some of the biggest names in blues by the year 2000. Her “Just Won’t Burn” (1998) reached gold in the US, rare for a blues disc. She opened for the Rolling Stones in 2003.

6. Nancy Wilson

Eva Rinaldi via Wikipedia

Cofounder of the band Heart, the first hard rock band to be fronted by women. With her sister Ann on lead vocals, Nancy Wilson was the first female guitarist to lead a chart-topping hard rock band. Nancy’s classical- and Flamenco-inspired intro to “Crazy On You” demonstrates she’s a guitar force to be reckoned with.

To balance out its hard-edged side, Nancy’s acoustic guitar work played a key role in the group’s mellow and pop side. In addition, Nancy has had a role as a songwriter in nearly every well-known song the group has recorded. Heart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

5. Brittany Howard

Drew de F Fawkes via Wikipedia

There is a quality reminiscent of rock and roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the playing of Brittany Howard. Howard delivers blues, R&B, soul, and jazz stylings amid chord progressions that show off her virtuosity and rhythmic complexity. She pulls off this guitar work all while singing magnificent vocal lines.

Brittany Howard first came to prominence fronting Alabama Shakes in the breakout single “Hold on,” which received three Grammy nominations. Taking a break from Alabama Shakes in 2018, Howard released her debut solo work Jaime in 2019. The album garnered seven Grammy nominations and won Best Rock Song for “Stay High.”

4. Bonnie Raitt

Masahiro Sumori via Wikipedia

Bonnie Raitt is a triple threat as a singer-songwriter, blues guitarist, and unquestionably one of the best slide guitarists of all time. Like many guitarists who double as lead vocalists, their singer role sometimes distracts from how great they are on their instrument.

Raitt’s slide guitar playing is as unique and identifiable as the oft-heralded Duane Allman’s style was. When it’s time to lay down a solo, using a slide or the traditional approach, Raitt can lay down a memorable or scorching lead passage that’s on par with the best guitar heroes.

3. Joni Mitchell

Capannelle via Wikipedia

Starting on the ukulele, and then learning guitar, Joni Mitchell defined the genres of folk and singer-songwriters better than anyone. She was introduced to the public on her debut album Song to a Seagull in 1968. Mitchell will be forever known for her traditional folk masterpiece Blue (1971).

Mitchell went on to try out alternate tunings to expand her sound. She ventured into new territory and complex arrangements with a jazz-rock record Court and Spark (1974). On the jazz-fusion album Hejira (1976), she showed off her guitar prowess by playing half of the lead solos.

2. Liona Boyd

Liona Boyd / Keith Williamson via Wikipedia

Called “the First Lady of the guitar,” stunningly beautiful and a virtuoso, Liona Boyd was an early protégé of the world-renowned classical guitarist Andres Segovia. She has recorded with the best of the best guitarists from Chet Atkins to Al Di Meola. She released her debut album, “The Guitar,” at age 25 in 1974, and headlined Carnegie Hall the following year.

London-born and Toronto-raised, she received her bachelor of music degree from the University of Toronto at age 23. She went on to study privately for two years with French classical guitarist and composer Alexandre Lagoya in Paris.

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1. Sister Rosetta Tharpe

James J. Kriegsmann via Wikipedia

One of the greatest unsung guitar heroes – male or female – Sister Rosetta Tharpe was “the original soul sister” and “the Godmother of rock ‘n’ roll.” She was laying down licks Chuck Berry and others would later borrow and make famous. She was also among the first to use heavy distortion on electric guitar and was a pioneer of electric blues.

Starting as a gospel music recording star, she was among the first gospel musicians to appeal to rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll audiences. She also performed with big bands behind her. Tharpe’s 1945 hit “Strange Things Happening Every Day” reached #2 on the R&B charts, blending country, jazz, and gospel.

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