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The Greatest Female Electric Guitarists?

06:01 PM Monday 8/24/09 | |

This month’s release of the rockumentary “It Might Get Loud,” featuring the electric guitar stylings of Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, inspired Elle magazine to brainstorm a few more musicians who the publication believes should be praised along with the rockers – namely, women guitarists.

Elle writes, “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.”

The article then points out that Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time only name-dropped two women – Joni Mitchell and Joan Jett.

Another example that comes to mind is the video game series Guitar Hero. The game includes playable real life rockers such as Slash and Tom Morello. You can also play as a number of male guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Billy Corgan, Zakk Wylde, Ted Nugent, Travis Barker, Sting, and Ozzy Osbourne – but the only female guitar god the game currently includes is Paramore’s Hayley Williams. The fifth edition of Guitar Hero is set for release in September along with playable characters Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain and one female – Garbage’s Shirley Manson.

So, are there just not as many great female guitarists out there or are the grrl rockers being overlooked?

Elle includes a quote from the The Breeders’ lead guitarist Kelly Deal.

She says, “I think we do exist, 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.”

Elle has compiled a list of 12 of the greatest female electric guitarists, kicking the list off in agreement with RS by praising Joan Jett for being a “no-nonsense player who in only a few strums can get an entire barroom howling her 1982 hit, “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll.”

Fellow Runaways guitarist Lita Ford is also on the list in addition to Heart’s Nancy Wilson. Jennifer Batten, who played along with Michael Jackson on his “Bad,” “Dangerous” and “HIStory” tours, is named, along with Orianthi, who was set to perform with MJ on his comeback tour, the 50-date “This Is It” London residency.

Elle says Kelley Deal deserves to be on the list because her “disheveled playing for the Breeders (and later the Kelley Deal 6000) moves us. It’s untrained, uncalculated, and completely unreal.”

L7’s Donita Sparks is also celebrated, as well as Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Browstein, The Cramps’ Poison Ivy, Nashville Pussy’s Ruyter Suys, The Great Kat and Marnie Stern.

An informal poll amongst Pollstar’s editorial department determined the list should be expanded to include Bonnie Raitt, Loretta Lynn, Chrissie Hynde, Cat Power, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Susan Tedeschi, Ani DiFranco, Le Tigre’s Kathleen Hanna, The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs and Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s.

Did we leave anyone off?

Who would you include on a list of the greatest female guitarists?

Click here for the Elle story.

Click here for Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time.


  1. telebender wrote:

    01:46 PM, Jul 12, 2011

    Wow - how about:

    Debbie Davies

    Laurie Morvan

    Deborah Coleman

    Joane Shaw Taylor

    Four of the best Blues players I have ever seen (or heard)

  2. AZanimal wrote:

    02:48 PM, Sep 05, 2009

    Naoko Yamano of Shonen Knife.  No flashy chops but rocks HARD and a master of catchy riffs and succinct melodies.

  3. albunde wrote:

    04:19 AM, Sep 03, 2009

    Michele Meldrum

    Emily Remler

  4. crewedup wrote:

    10:29 AM, Aug 26, 2009

    Lita Ford, Jennifer Batten, Orianthi all belong there, but no one yet has mentioned (the late) Kelly Johnson of Girlschool. She was another pioneer of ripping female guitarists.

  5. crewedup wrote:

    10:26 AM, Aug 26, 2009

    Lita Ford, Jennifer Batten, Orianthi all belong there, but no one yet has mentioned (the late) Kelly Johnsion of Girlschool. She was another early pioneer of ripping female guitarists.

  6. paulstack wrote:

    06:49 PM, Aug 25, 2009

    Well Done "SCIslanderfan"  for recognizing Allison Robertson as the best Female electric guitarist.  In fact didn't she win an award recently from another publication to that effect.  Sad thing is, probably 90% of the people posting here haven't heard of her or The Donnas!!

  7. musiclover22 wrote:

    04:34 PM, Aug 25, 2009

    wendy melovin

    Malina Moye

    Bonnie Raitt

    Susan Tedeschi

    Sheryl Crow

    Melissa Etheridge

    Chrissie Hynde

    Joan Jett

    Ana popvoic

    Joni Mitchell

    Lita Ford

    Nancy Wilson

  8. Anonymous wrote:

    12:01 PM, Aug 25, 2009

    My list includes everyone who's already been talked about, Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett, Shirley Manson, and obviously and my favorite by far, Nancy Wilson.

  9. Saneaux wrote:

    11:46 AM, Aug 25, 2009

    66MG is right on...there are plenty of female singer/songwriters that are way under appreciated when it comes to these ridiculous "greatest of all time" lists (generally propagated by Rolling Stone and other music industry advertising machines), however, there really aren't a lot of  female guitarists in the "mainstream" that compare to Hendrix, Page or any of the 100s of other men who are commonly referred to as the greatest guitarists...I hope that changes, though, there's nothing sexier than a woman who can really wail on guitar....(oh, and since people are throwing names out there, I'd say Darcy of the pumpkins - though a bassist - was really a fine guitarist)

  10. SCIslanderfan wrote:

    10:36 AM, Aug 25, 2009

    I would include Allison Robertson of The Donnas

  11. Trainarollin wrote:

    07:57 AM, Aug 25, 2009

    How about that Oriental girl that was in the Smashing Pumpkins? Ina Ian whatever the hell her name was. She had short blonde hair.

  12. tjgrady24 wrote:

    07:42 AM, Aug 25, 2009

    Susan Tedeschi-Trucks has to be included in the list.  She is easily one of the best female blues guitarists today.  And she's only getting better playing with and learning from her husband, Derek Trucks.