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Top 10 best and most famous female guitarists of all time

Over the decades, there have been so many great female guitar players. However, nowadays, it seems as if the expansion has finally reached its peak, and a definitive list is much needed.

So, without much further ado, let me get you up to date with one of the fastest-growing and most potent sections of our industry!

About me

Djordje Lukovic, writer at Higher Hz

I’ve been playing guitar since the age of 6, and for 26 years at the time of writing, doing an article like this was a difficult task.

Through many phases of discovering the works of numerous axewomen of all eras – trying to make a list of only ten was a bit heartbreaking.

How I put this list together

For this updated list, I’ve tried to include the most relevant guitarists of various genres and age groups.

I took into account the influence each guitarist had on others and the importance of each guitarist on the music scene in a creative sense.

I have also incorporated some underrated players, which I think deserve more attention from the general guitar-playing population.

Besides the legends, nowadays, we have a whole new resurgence of the female guitar-playing folk.

It was a tough list to make, no doubt about it. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure you will discover some of the more hidden gems, as well as rediscover some of the all-time greats!

Ana Popović (born 1976)

Main superpower: Making traditional blues style relevant for the 21st century.

Ana Popovic
Ana Popović | Photo: Francis Bourgouin

Born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia, Ana Popović started playing guitar very early on. She gained her love of blues and guitar from her father, who was a huge blues guitar enthusiast.

Ana formed her first band when she was 19 and toured the Balkans extensively. After three years, she disbanded the group and went to study guitar in the Netherlands.

After that, Ana started her solo career, during which she built an impressive back catalog of music.

Every album she has put out has pushed her playing envelope further and further, while still retaining her signature touch.

There’s nothing crazy about empowering women. It’s just the new world.Ana Popović

Nita Strauss (born 1986)

Main superpower: Goddess-tier metal shredding.

Nita Strauss
Nita Strauss | Photo: Frank Schwichtenberg

Nita Strauss has become a certain type of cultural icon over the last few years!

Her hard rockin’ shred guitar playing made her one of the most prominent heavy metal guitarists of the last decade.

Besides releasing some top-tier solo stuff and playing with the Iron Maidens, she also became a part of the legendary Alice Cooper.

One of the main hallmarks of her playing style is her technical dexterity which does not undermine her melodic sensibility.

If you want to check out some sick Nita Strauss licks, make sure to take listen to the song “Mariana Trench,” and be prepared to be blown away!

It’s hard to get a start as an instrumental guitar player. It’s a much quicker route to be in a band, so I was always in a band and writing songs with singers, but I always had the dream in the back of my mind to make an instrumental record.Nita Strauss

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915 – 1973)

Main superpower: Godmother of rock ‘n’ roll.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe | Photo: James J. Kriegsmann

The most influential artist on this list, bar none!

Sister Rosetta Tharpe single-handedly (well, not really, but in a way) made a crucial influence on the first generation of rock ‘n’ rollers, namely, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Keith Richards.

Her gospel-type songs featured some rudimentary distorted guitar sounds and proto-rock ‘n’ roll licks and motifs.

Her life story is equally incredible. She was born into a religious family on a cotton plant in Arkansas. As a young girl, she toured with her mother, as a part of a traveling evangelical troupe. All of that was happening at the time during which racism was at an all-time high in America.

From today’s viewpoint, her style is best summed up as a mixture of jazz, blues, and gospel. And her performing and songwriting talent made a huge impact on the following generations!

Can’t no man play like me.Sister Rosetta Tharpe

St. Vincent (born 1982)

Main superpower: Out-of-the-box way of playing and writing.

St. Vincent (Anne Erin Clark)
Anne Erin Clark aka St. Vincent | Photo: Greg Noire

Anne Erin Clark, better known as St Vincent, is a very eccentric artist in every possible way.

Not only in terms of her idiosyncratic image but also in terms of her playing style.

Her skilled indie-rock-influenced licks and songs have made some serious waves since the early 2000s. In the meantime, she released six albums and toured the globe extensively.

If you want to hear a truly unique artist who mastered her craft, check out St. Vincent!

I just love playing guitar, so that’s what I’m going to do.St. Vincent

Joan Jett (born 1958)

Main superpower: Rock-solid guitar riffing.

Joan Jett
Joan Jett | Photo: Stephane Mahot

Now, you may notice that Joan Jett isn’t really the most technically proficient guitar player on this list, and you will probably be right!

However, when it comes to Jett, that’s not what it’s all about. Her guitar playing was never meant to be flashy or virtuosic. Her playing is meant to be rock-solid and fierce, which it most definitely is!

Her songwriting, playing style, and appearance all contributed to her being one of the most iconic rock frontwomen ever!

My guitar is not a thing. It is an extension of myself. It is who I am.Joan Jett

Nancy Wilson (born 1954)

Main superpower: One of the most recognizable frontwomen ever.

Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson | Photo: Eva Rinaldi

Nancy Wilson is best known for playing in the band Heart, along with her sister Ann Wilson.

Nancy started playing guitar in her teenage years and played at several events at her college. She played acoustic guitar predominantly and then gradually moved on to rock, with some flamenco touches.

Along with her sister, Nancy Wilson rocked the world of popular music with a string of popular tunes and albums.

As of today, she sold over 35 million albums worldwide!

I think what constitutes rock nowadays is people that actually play and sing. They can do the job live with no Pro Tools or embellishments or other recorded material.Nancy Wilson

Bonnie Raitt (born 1949)

Main superpower: Incredible slide playing.

Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Raitt | Photo: John Edwards

What can be said about this music legend? After 50 years in the music industry, she has written so many legendary songs that it is almost unparalleled.

Bonnie Raitt released 18 studio albums to her name and won 14 different awards for her achievements in the field of music.

Technically speaking, one of her most impressive characteristics is her phenomenal slide guitar playing.

Pair that with her soulful singing style, and you have yourself one of the biggest singer-songwriter legends of the past 50 years!

I never saw music in terms of men and women or black and white. There was just cool and uncool.Bonnie Raitt

Joni Mitchell (born 1943)

Main superpower: An all-around great guitarist.

Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell | Photo: Paul C. Babin

Joni Mitchell was, and still is a legend of the acoustic guitar world.

However, as her career progressed, she slowly started moving towards a more electric guitar approach, which ended up in her having to call in session guitarists to do the overdubs.

Eventually, her idiosyncratic writing style started to become really challenging for her session guitarists, who were the best in the business.

As they consistently had issues, she slowly started taking over all of the recorded guitar parts and pushed the envelope on her own technical boundaries.

Joni Mitchell ended up being one helluva great all-around guitar player of that generation and beyond!

My style of songwriting is influenced by cinema. I’m a frustrated filmmaker. A fan once said to me, “Girl, you make me see pictures in my head!” and I took that as a great compliment. That’s exactly my intention.Joni Mitchell

Kaki King (born 1979)

Main superpower: A dictionary definition of unique.

Kaki King
Kaki King | Photo: Ivana Debértolis

Katherine King, better known as Kaki King, is probably the most innovative guitar player on this list!

As a beginner, King was wondering if she should start playing drums, or guitar. Eventually, she did opt for the guitar. However, her percussive tendencies were not going anywhere!

Kaki King developed a style so unique that her percussive sensibilities made their way into her guitar-playing style.

As a result of that, she ended up having custom guitars made to suit her utterly unique playing style.

Kaki King did an impressive run of albums between 2003 and 2015, where she released an album every year.

To add to an already impressive resume, I must add that she contributed to the Golden Globe-nominated Best Original Score for Sean Penn’s film Into the Wild.

I had to be reminded that the guitar is infinite. It never stops teaching you, it never stops being difficult; there’s an unlimited amount of things to learn, and you’ll never master it.Kaki King

Poison Ivy (born 1953)

Main superpower: Style and sound so idiosyncratic that it is instantly recognizable.

Poison Ivy (Kristy Marlana Wallace)
Kristy Marlana Wallace aka Poison Ivy | Photo: Steve Taylor

Poison Ivy is one of the most recognizable guitarists in all of punk rock. There are not that many guitar players that you can identify after hearing just a few bars.

She is primarily known for her legendary riffs that defined the genre. Although a prolific riff writer, she became more and more skilled as a soloist as the albums went on.

One of her more distinguished feats is her legendary use of reverb. The things this lady could do with that fine effect… you really have to hear it to believe it!

She is an underground legend!

I don’t know why guitar playing is considered a masculine art, except it’s just been appropriated that way. It doesn’t require any great strength or some male brain pattern. In fact, it’s sort of feminine.Poison Ivy

Final thoughts

This was my list of the ten best and most famous female guitarists of all time.

Unfortunately, I feel a big deal of discontent with the fact that I had to leave out so many incredible guitar players.

However, that shouldn’t stop you from exploring them yourselves, right?!