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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. BoneMachine wrote:

    06:42 AM, Aug 25, 2009

    Ruyter Suys of Nashville .  She's an amazing guitarist and a fireball of a performer.

  2. 66MG wrote:

    11:40 PM, Aug 24, 2009

    Courtney Love?  HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  Maybe if you're making a list of the worst female singers of all time.  Get a clue.

  3. BrokenHalo wrote:

    11:20 PM, Aug 24, 2009

    dude, what about

    P.J. Harvey

    Shirely Manson of Garbage

    even KiKi Mancha from SPANKING MACHINE

    and the bassest from HOLE Melissa DeUff or something like that! Even COurtney Love should at least be considered in this list.

    all these girls can rock with the guitar and bass. redue this list ASAP!!

  4. BrokenHalo wrote:

    11:17 PM, Aug 24, 2009

    What about

    P.J. Harvey!!!

    Shirley Manson of Garbage

    and Kiki Mancha from SPANKING MACHINE!?!?!?

    these three girls can rock the guitar and bass! They neeed to redue this list ASAP!

  5. 66MG wrote:

    11:12 PM, Aug 24, 2009

    I wish those obsessed with creating these 'lists' could figure out that songwriting and guitar playing are really two different things.  I can be the world's most technically proficient guitar player, but still lack the creativity to write really good songs, and vice versa.  If you want to recognize Joni Mitchell's songwriting ability, great!  Have at it.  But don't feed me this tripe that she's a great guitar player.  Same goes for most of the women on this list.  I'll give it up to Jennifer Batten, but there are very few women that can play like she can.  Bonnie Raitt certainly warrants a mention.  But Jane Wiedlin and Susanna Hoffs?  You can't be serious.  You can't just include any woman that has ever picked up a guitar.  If that's the sole criterion, I nominate Jennifer Aniston, since I saw her wearing a guitar in the intro for Friends.  I guarantee she looked better than Kelley Deal or Joan Jett.  BTW, the Rolling Stone list is a joke as well.  Kurt Cobain and Jack White are in the top 20; Eddie Van Halen is 70 and David Gilmour is 82.  Like everything else about Rolling Stone, their list can't possibly be taken seriously.  The entire magazine is a joke.

  6. btr/nyc wrote:

    09:23 PM, Aug 24, 2009

    PJ Harvey (lil peej is scarey even just holding a guitar-can someone say i cant get no satisfaction-and she rocks when she plays too!-dont know how anyones list cant have pjh on it)

    carrie brownstein/lead -sleater kinney (furious pete townshend jumps and windmills-carrie was a wild physical animal guitarist before ripping up her knee in the early 2000's-even standing relatively still carrie can still rip the guitar apart-really do miss sk)

    corrine tucker/riddim sleater kinney

    ruthie foster (magnapop-you probably never saw her and her gold gibson LLP-but ruthie and the pop ROCKs)

    chrissie hynde (steel handed bo diddly riddims)

    erika wennerstrom/heartless bastards

    courtney love (i guess)

    sister rosetta tharpe (OG Rock n soul music)

    ms bonnie riatt (blues slide)

    ani difranco-

    vicki peterson-bangles/continental drifters

    cool as kim deal (bass, in one of the worlds greatest ever guitar bands)

    sharde evans/traditional american cane fife-otha turner rising star fife and drum band-

    (alright it aint even a GUITAR but her great grand uncle the legendary late otha turner taught his greatgrand niece sharde the FIFE and this very young woman plays it like it was a lead guitar-when i first saw her play with otha in 2002/3? at the nola jassfest think she was just 9-where else would u ever see her name and read about her music-and the cane fife ROCKS)  

    thats my short list-billytherhinonyc

  7. marod70 wrote:

    08:43 PM, Aug 24, 2009

    Carolyn Wonderland

    Sue Foley

  8. bananaquit wrote:

    08:36 PM, Aug 24, 2009

    Gillian Welch

    Jenny Lewis


    Patty Griffin

    Lucinda Williams

    Aimee Mann

    Sarah Harmer

    Emily Saliers and Amy Ray

    Laura Veirs

    Tracy Chapman

    Dar Williams

  9. clapton7 wrote:

    06:56 PM, Aug 24, 2009

    Bonnie Raitt

    Susan Tedeschi

    Sheryl Crow

    Melissa Etheridge

    Chrissie Hynde

    Joan Jett

    Joni Mitchell

    Lita Ford

    Nancy Wilson