We here think it’s time for female guitarists to step into the spotlight, and get the credit that they’ve been denied for far too long. So put on your favorite record, and let’s take a look at the best Ax-ladies that music has to offer.
Liona Boyd – The First Lady
Liona Boyd has played in both underground clubs and in the most prestigious venues throughout the U.K., British Columbia, Yukon, Paris, and even at Carnegie Hall in New York City. She is often considered by many to be the “First Lady of the Guitar.”
Lita Ford – Billboard Hot 100
Lita Ford came from England to the United States where her guitar skills have been ringing in our ears ever since. She grew up close to Los Angeles, in a city called Long Beach, California, and her proximity to powerful record labels eventually put her in contact with Ozzy Osbourne after breaking from her band, The Runaways, in order to pursue her own solo career. Her duet with Osbourne, “Close My Eyes Forever,” reached number 8 on Billboard Hot 100.
Sharon Isbin – From a Family of Geniuses
Sharon Isbin didn’t come from a family of musicians, but it does seem like she came from a family of geniuses. Both of her parents were nuclear scientists who wrote the book Introductory Nuclear Reactor Theory. Isbin didn’t fail to live up to her parents’ standard of intellectual accomplishment. She graduated cum laude from Yale and with a master’s in music from the Yale School of Music. Since then, she has gone on to play in over 200 professional orchestras.
Poison Ivy AKA Kristy Wallace
We’re not talking about the comic book villain who fights Batman here. Poison Ivy is a real-life person who is the guitarist, songwriter, arranger, producer, and vocalist for the punk rock group, The Cramps. The band was first formed in 1976 and was active for over 30 years, eventually breaking apart in 2009. Who was her counterpart in the band? It was none other than her husband, Lux Interior, who sadly died resulting in the end of the band.
Gretchen Menn – Guitarist and Composer
Known for being exceptional on both the electric and acoustic guitar, Gretchen Menn’s career has garnered her an extraordinary amount of prestige and recognition. Many of the magazines that recognize her are rock magazines, including being named Artist of the Year by Vintage Guitar Magazine, and Guitar Player Magazine’s 50 Sensational Female Guitarists. She was also one of only 11 women to be featured on the album, She Rocks, Vol 1. She is the original member of the band, Zepparella.
Debbie Davis – Blazed a Trail
Debbie Davies has been rocking on the guitar for decades, and blues style of playing is known to many who are fans of the genre. Since the 1980s, Davies has rocked out for some seriously big names including Jimmy Buffet, Albert Collins, along with Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton in their band, Double Trouble. More than that, Davies’ work in mostly all-female blues bands has helped to break women into the once men-only genre, adding even more great talent.
Sue Foley – Singer and Guitarist
Much like Debbie Davies, Sue Foley was an early entry into the world of blues music who has forever left a mark on that world. Since first playing her debut solo gig at age 16, Sue Foley knew she was destined to be a blues singer, and after graduating high school immediately formed a band and began touring Canada. Her first album was released in 1992 and, 28 years later in May 2020, she won her first Blues Music Award.
Muriel Anderson – Fingerpicking Guitar Master
Muriel Anderson came from a family of musicians. Her grandfather was a saxophone player in the John Philip Sousa Band, and as a child, Anderson was taught piano and guitar. The guitar was in fact a gift from a family friend that she received at the age of eight and ended up leading her to her destiny. She’s both a harp and fingerstyle guitarist, one so good that she became the first woman to win the National Fingerpicking Guitar Championship.
Nili Brosh – Heavy Metal Rocker
Originally from Israel, heavy metal guitar seemed to run in the veins of the Brosh family. Not only has Nili herself played in numerous bands (Cirque du Soleil, Guthrie Govan/ The Aristrocrats, and The Iron Maidens) and with incredible artists like Paul Gilber, Andy Timmons, and Stu Hamm, but her brother, Eithan, is also a heavy metal guitarist in the band, Burning Heat. In spite of that Brosh learned classic guitar from age seven and electric guitar at age 12.
Badi Assad – Jazz and Worldbeat
Badi Assad is a woman of the world. Born in Brazil to Lebanese parents, Badi Assad has since become known in nearly every corner of the world. She began playing in 1980 and, only seven years after beginning her professional career, was already being named the Best Brazilian Guitarist of the International Villa Lobos Festival. Since then she has toured in both North and South America, the Middle East, Europe, and was even invited to India by the Brazilian Embassy.
Maybelle Carter – The Carter Sisters
Born years before rock n’ roll became a mainstream sound like it is today, Maybelle Carter nevertheless makes the list for being one of the best-known country musicians and for being one of the most talented guitarists of her era. When was that era you may ask? Well, Carter was born in 1909 and didn’t start playing actively until 1927. She was a talent on more than just guitar, also known for her proficiency on autoharp, guitaro, and banjo.
Nori Bucci – The Band, Gamalon
Nori Bucci is a passionate guitar player, and it’s easy to see that from the way she leans over her guitar, almost seeming like she’s pouring her heart and soul into every note that she plays. She’s best known for playing in the band, Gamalon, where she became the lead guitarist after the band’s former guitarist, Tony Scozzaro, left the band. Gamalon has been playing since the mid-1980s and has even played in reunion shows as recently as 2012.
Charo – The Queen of Flamenco
As the title suggests, Spanish actress and guitarist Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza (whoo, we made it!) is better known as Charo who has earned the reputation of being the Queen of Flamenco. Her first released recordings were actually disco records that came out in the disco era of the 1970s. By 1994, Charo had won the Female Pop Album of the Year award at the Billboard International Latin Music Conference and even got the same award from Billboard.
Laura Chavez – Also Called Triviana
Although she only stands at five foot three inches, guitarist Laura Chavez has towered above many other musicians through pure skill and passion for her art. After hearing the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin shred their way through albums, Chavez decided that she would follow their paths and share their love for guitar. She’s since adopted a guitar playing style similar to Hendrix’s, full of intensity, saying she loves playing a guitar especially when that guitar fights back.
Felicia Collins – Late Night Orchestra
You may not have noticed her when you were watching the Late Show with David Letterman, but Felicia Michele Collins was there every night, playing her guitar as part of the CBS Orchestra which opened and closed the show every night. Although New York has since become her home, Collins moved there with her family from Jackson, Tennessee, a state known for producing some of the United States’ best guitarists. Since the show ended, Collins has played with numerous stars.
Deborah Coleman – Best Guitarist
American blues musician Deborah Coleman was raised to love music by her music-loving family. Not only is she herself an accomplished and award-winning blues musician, but her family is full of talented musicians as well. Her father played piano, and her two brothers and sister all also play guitar while her sister also plays keyboard as well. Since her 1997 album, Coleman went on to earn numerous awards including the Orville Gibson Award for Best Female Blue Guitarist.
Ani DiFranco – Has 20 Albums
Born Angela Maria DiFranco, Ani DiFranco has been very busy since the early 1990s when she began her professional career. She’s produced more than 20 albums, much of which have been classified as folk-rock and alternative rock, although many of them also draw on features from punk, funk, hip-hop, and jazz. Since forming her own record label, Righteous Babe, Ani DiFranco has been able to enjoy an amount of creative freedom that many guitarists and musicians dream of.
Elizabeth Cotton – Left Hand Guitarist
Born to a musical family near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Elizabeth discovered her brother’s guitar and, according to her, “From that day on, nobody had no peace in that house.” By the age of 9, she was forced to drop out of school in order to work so she could help her family out financially. In spite of that, she saved enough to buy herself her own guitar. Fast forward to 1989, she was rich and won her first Grammy Award.
Kat Dyson – Passion and Talent
“Patience, perseverance, and purpose. If you’ve got those three things in anything you choose – whether it’s music or anything – it’s gonna take an act of God to stop you!” These are the words that Kat Dyson says she lives by, and it seems to have paid off. Her style is a combination of both incredible face-melting solos and intricate chord changes that few are able to master. But Dyson’s been playing since the 1990s and it shows.
The Instrumentally Versatile Vicki Genfan
Much like many other artists we’ve seen on this list, Vicki Genfan also picked up the guitar at a young age and also had a musical family that instilled in her a love and passion for music. Vicki is a very versatile musician, playing not only the guitar but the piano, banjo, hand percussion, and even the trombone. By 1994 she had produced her first album on cassette and has been labeled the “Queen of Open Tunings” by prestigious magazines.
Kaki King AKA Katherine King
In 2006 the popular magazine Rolling Stone released their list of “The New Guitar Gods.” Even though Kaki King had only been performing professionally for a mere 5 years, she was included on that list and additionally was the only woman on that list. Since picking up the guitar she has produced six LPs along with two EP albums alongside her friends and bandmates, Eddie Vedder and Michael Brook. She has also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.
Sarah Longfield – YouTube Celebrity
With a YouTube channel that has been viewed over 17 million times, Sarah Longfield is taking advantage of the world of social media and streaming to build a wide audience for herself and her original music. According to her own about section on her YouTube channel, she’s only 25 years old but has been playing guitar for the past 12 years. Additionally, she’s talented on numerous other instruments, and it seems that has garnered her an online following of 200,000.
Bibi McGill – Beyonce’s Lead Guitarist
Bibi McGill’s best-known accomplishment is being the lead guitarist and musical director of Beyonce’s backup band known as the Suga Mamas. But Beyonce isn’t the only artist that McGill has become familiar with. She’s also been professionally involved with P!nk, Paulina Rubio, and the popular Chilean band La Ley. Her biggest on-screen moment was her halftime guitar solo for the fourth most-watched halftime show ever – Madonna’s Super Bowl XLVI halftime show, which brought 110.8 million viewers.
June Millington – Co-founder of Fanny
Active from 1965 until today, June Millington has been dubbed the godmother of women’s music. The reason being that her band Fanny, was meant to denote the female spirit. June was the lead guitarist and singer of this popular band from the 1970s, while her sister Jean was on bass. The band lived in a beautiful Spanish style mansion, which overlooked the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The band has long been considered by many to be pioneers and highly respected.
Memphis Minnie AKA Lizzie Douglas
Memphis Minnie was a blues vocalist and guitarist whose career spanned nearly 50 years and recorded over 200 songs. Some of the most popular include “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” “Nothing in Rambling,” and “Bumble Bee.” Her guitar playing began when she was 13 years old and Minnie ran away from home to go live on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. In order to get by, she played the guitar on street corners which eventually led to real professional work.
Joni Mitchell – Singer, Guitarist, Painter
Joni Mitchell has been described by many publications as one of the greatest female guitarists and musicians ever. Rolling Stone has called her “one of the greatest songwriters ever,” and AllMusic lavished her with praise by claiming, “When the dust settles, Joni Mitchell may stand as the most important and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century.” Even though she has been the recipient of all this success, Mitchell describes herself as being a “painter derailed by circumstance.”
Noveller – Project of Sarah Lipstate
Noveller began in 2009 as a solo electric guitar project of composer and filmmaker Sarah Lipstate. According to her website, sarahlipstate.com, she describes her love for the guitar with the following: “The guitar as her muse, Lipstate summons a sonic palette so rich as to challenge the listener to conceive of how it’s housed in a single instrument manipulated by a solitary performer.” She has toured the U.S. and internationally both as an opener and as a headliner for her many fans.
Ava Popovic – Serbian Blue Guitarist
Ana Popovic was born in Belgrade and by age 15 had been introduced to blues, a style she fell in love with in spite of it being a primarily American-based musical style. In spite of that, by 1996, she was performing across Serbia, Greece, and Hungary. Just two years later, Ana and her band, Hush, had played in over 100 performances across Europe. By 2000, she was performing alongside American music stars and soon found popularity in the U.S.
Gabriela Quintero – Rodrigo y Gabriela
Gabriela Quintero might be best known for her performance with her bandmate, Rodrigo Sanchez. The two met at age fifteen when they were both living in Mexico City and apparently bonded over their shared love for music. The two became frustrated with the limited amount of options that they found for guitar players in Mexico and moved to Dublin, Ireland. In the following years, they’ve worked in Hollywood films and have even played at the White House.
Bonnie Raitt – 10 Grammy Awards
Bonnie Raitt is more than just an award-winning guitar player who’s fond of the blues. She’s also a big-time activist, who uses her platform to push issues that are important to her. Most of her albums are incorporated from a variety of musical genres, these include blues, rock, folk, and country. She has been called one of the “greatest singers of all time,” and one of the “greatest guitarists of all time,” making her a big-time star.
Emily Remler – American Jazz Guitarist
Born in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Remler was already a guitarist by the time she was 10 years old. At age 24, she was already being called “the new superstar of guitar.” In 1982, just a year after her 24th birthday, she began touring as the leader of her band, Firefly, and was met with almost immediate universal acclaim. When asked how she wanted to be remembered, she said in addition to her musical talent, her contributions to women’s music.
Leni Stern – Plays the Ngoni
Born in West Germany (back when Germany was split between Western and under control of the USSR) Leni Stern actually grew up studying to become an actress. She actually appeared on German television a few times before moving to Berklee to enroll in their college of music in 1977. By 1980 she was already living in New York where she ended up forming a band of her own. Leni is an accomplished ngoni player – a wooden guitar popular in Mali.
Mimi Fox – Musician and Professor
Mimi Fox is another female guitarist who also partially inherited her talent from her family – this time from her mother’s side. Fox’s mom had been a jazz singer and, after listening to her mother sing and her father’s impressive album collection, she picked up the guitar at age 10 and taught herself to play. She’s since worked with some of the most famous guitarists and is a professor at universities like Yale, New York University, and the California Jazz Conservatory.
Mary Osborne – Beloved Jazz Guitarist
Mary Osborne grew up in North Dakota in the 1920s as the tenth of eleventh children in her family. Growing up, she became proficient in piano, ukulele, violin, banjo, and, of course, guitar. By twelve she was already performing country music in a trio of three girls. As she got older she moved to Chicago and New York, becoming heavily involved in the jazz scene playing double bass and singing. By 1968 she moved to LA, continuing to play jazz.
Donna Grantis – Performed With Prince
How does one get good enough on guitar to perform next to one of the most beloved musicians of all time? Well, let’s ask Donna Grantis, who seems to have found the answer. Born in Canada, Grantis worked as a bartender while trying to get her music career to take off. After forming a fusion trio called the Donna Grantis Electric Band, she was invited by Prince to his Minnesota recording complex. Together they performed “Plectrumelectrum,” which hit number one.
St. Vincent AKA Anne Clark
Born Anne Erin Clark, this female guitar player, singer, songwriter, and record producer has been known more popularly as St. Vincent. She originally got her start as a member of the Dallas choir, the Polyphonic Spree, before going on to form her own band in 2006. She eventually produced an album in 2014, named after her stage name, and the album garnered her international recognition. Many publications unanimously agreed that her musical album was the album of the year.
Allison Robertson – Rock Band Guitarist
Originally from North Hollywood, California, Allison Robert’s proximity to major film studios meant that her family had already been writing music for major motion pictures, which inspired Robertson to pick up the guitar at a young age. By 2006, she asked her sister Emily to form a band with her, which the two women called Elle Rae, a combination of both of their middle names. She’s been a part of many bands but her main group is the Chelsea Girls.
Jennifer Batten – She Knew the Stars
This New York native has been rocking out for the past 40 years, with a career that began in 1980, and with a skill on the guitar that’s been honed since she was only 8 years old. Since stepping on to the stage, Jennifer has performed both as a solo artist and as part of an ensemble. Between 1987 and 1997 she was the guitarist in all three of Michael Jackson’s world tours and her album’s producer was Stevie Wonder.
Orianthi – Sudden Rise to Fame
Orianthi’s full name is actually Orianthi Penny Panagaris, and from Adelaide, South Australia she rose through the ranks to become arguably one of the biggest stars and best female guitarists ever. Her breakthrough came back in 2009 when she agreed to perform as Carrie Underwood’s lead guitarist for the 51st annual Grammy Awards. Underwood was apparently so taken with Orianthi that she invited her to be a part of the band. That same year she also released her first album.
Courtney Cox – The Iron Maiden
At age 15, Courtney Cox enrolled at the Paul Green School of Rock Music, and from there her future seemed certain. As a teenager, she was already performing with major acts like Jon Anderson and Adrian Belew. She even joined an all-female tribute band called Queen Diamond which played songs from the popular band, King Diamond. But her real rise to notoriety came in 2008 when she was invited to perform for The Iron Maidens where she’s still rocking today.