15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Guitar Players

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The guitar is an instrument that’s easy to learn but difficult to master. In the world of music, there are some truly talented guitarists that wowed us with their intros, solos, riffs, and legendary licks.

Eric Clapton, Don Felder, Angus Young, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen are some of the big names that anyone would easily recognize. They are the titans, of course, but there are some amazing female guitarists with incredible talents that deserve some of the spotlight too.

In this article, we’ll talk about 15 of the most famous female guitar players that are sadly often overlooked. Let’s start!

1. Orianthi

Orianthi Penny Panagaris, simply known as her stage name Orianthi, has a rather colorful background. She was brought up in the South of Australia, where she lived with Greek parents who really loved music.

As a little girl of three, Orianthi’s father encouraged her to play the piano and she effortlessly learned the instrument. By her sixth birthday, she moved on to playing guitar. 

At only 15, Orianthi became a professional songwriter. She was also already playing in local bands and stood out from the crowd easily. A few years later, at 18, she played with legendary American guitarist Carlos Santana on his Memorial Drive in 2003. 

The brilliant start of this hugely talented artist speeded up in the following years. She shared the stage with some of the biggest musicians in the field, like Michael Jackson, Carrie Underwood, and John Mayer. 

Additionally, she released various albums and won numerous awards in her whirlwind journey. Among her most memorable singles are “According To You” and “Shut Up And Kiss Me.”

As of this writing, she’s constantly touring and cementing her status as one of the finest electric guitarists in the world.

2. Joan Jett

The multitalented Joan Jett is an old-time rocker, who’s also an exceptional songwriter, actress, and composer, in addition to being a prominent record producer.

These roles all came together and contributed to the huge success of her band, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. Many people are so taken by Jett’s singing that they sometimes miss out on her prowess as a guitarist.

Her big hit, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” which topped the charts back in the early 1980s, is a clear demonstration of her skills. Her style is energetic, but it’s also melodic and highly innovative. 

3. Kaki King

At an early age, Kaki King‘s musical talent was already evident. She learned how to play the guitar, then the drums, and seems to go back and forth between the two for a while.

Finally, she created a guitar playing style that included percussive moves, which pretty much united her favorite instruments. 

This prolific guitar player and composer has been releasing almost an album per year from 2003 to 2015. She skipped a few years, but in 2020, she was back on the studio scene with her latest studio album, Modern Yesterdays

Among her stunning achievements is a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, and she even has guitars designed to suit her unique playing style. 

4. Joni Mitchell

Born Roberta Joan Mitchell, Joni Mitchell is a high-caliber pop music icon who is often compared to legends like Bob Dylan.

This grand status didn’t start with plenty of promise though, as Mitchell had some serious odds stacked against her. She contracted polio as a child, which limited her mobility significantly and left her extremities weak.

Her parents weren’t too affluent, and that added another level of limitations to her life. Mitchell, resilient at a young age, taught herself how to play the guitar during these hard times.

She also found that writing lyrics, composing music, and singing came easy to her. Soon, she became a star in the music industry as a guitarist and also became an inspiration.

Among her most popular songs are “Blue” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” She is also quite creative, designing the covers of most of her albums. 

5. Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Born Rosetta Nubin, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was among the pioneers who invented rock and roll. She was a distinguished electric guitar player, as well as an avant-garde songwriter and epic performer. 

Tharpe had early beginnings in her musical abilities. Her mother had a naturally nice singing voice and also played the mandolin. It is said that she taught her daughter how to play music probably before she could even talk. 

Tharpe grew up to be a child star, professionally performing alongside her mother all around the South. They only played gospel music for a while, but that soon developed into soul, blues, and jazz.

Tharpe’s techniques were quite novel, and she pushed the limits of her electric guitar all the way to the riffs of rock and roll.

Related: Check out our post about the best blues guitar players here.

6. Ida Presti

Famous Classical guitarist Ida Presti was born and raised in Paris, France, where her father discovered quite early how talented his daughter was.

She received her first lessons in classical guitar when she was a toddler and appeared in a formal concert when she was eight. Presti grew up to become a prominent performer in France, and soon, her reputation spilled over to other countries.

When she got married to the guitarist Alexandre Lagoya, they formed a duet and played together in more than 2,000 concerts. 

Presti’s vivacious playing style, compositions, and total control of the instrument solidified her position as one of the greats. 

7. Muriel Anderson

American musician Muriel Anderson became famous for playing a harp guitar containing 21 strings. She is also the first female to champion the National Fingerpicking Guitar contest, marking a record in the music industry.

Anderson has always loved music as a child, and she wrote her first composition when she was only five. She learned to play guitar not soon after, and dabbled in numerous genres, including jazz, folk, and bluegrass.

Later on in life, she grew her professional music career and collaborated with some of the best musicians of our time, including Mark Kibble of Take 6, Victor Wooten, and the Nashville Symphony.

One of her most famous pieces comes in the music score of the romantic-comedy movie “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” 

8. Charo

María Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, more known as simply Charo, is a top-notch flamenco guitarist with a colorful presence, both on and off stage.

She was born in Spain where she learned how to play the guitar from a true master, Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia. 

At a young age, she married the much older violinist Xavier Cugat. A few years later, Charo immigrated to the US with him. It was there in the US that Charo became an instant sensation.

Her charismatic persona carried her talent further than she ever imagined, and she appeared in TV shows, movies, and live performances.

She is most remembered for her catchphrase, “Cuchi-cuchi girl,” as well as her hit songs “Olé Olé,” “España Cañi,” and “Sexy Sexy.” 

9. Renata Tarrago

Catalan guitarist Renata Tarrago’s name is often associated with the beautiful composition “Concierto de Aranjuez.” She is known as one of the finest performers who had ever played Joaquín Rodrigo’s elaborate music. 

Tarrago grew up in a musical family. She was immersed since childhood in the disciplined creativity of the Barcelona Conservatory where her father was a prominent teacher. 

Not soon after, at the age of 14, she started performing publicly and was even offered a position as an assistant professor at the Conservatory. Although Tarrago continued along the same academic path as her father, she was also a prolific cosmopolitan performer.

Her live performances and recordings made her known all over the world. She was also given the “Premio Extraordinario” award in 1951 for her exemplary artistic skills.

10. Mother Maybelle Carter

Born Maybelle Addington, Mother Maybelle Carter was a country music player who played at the turn of the century in the US. 

She invented the Carter Scratch, which is a technique where the thumb plays a melody on the guitar, while the index keeps the beat. This style was emulated since then by numerous guitarists.

Carter formed a trio with her daughters, touring around the US and achieving huge fame and popularity from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Occasionally, Johnny Cash, her son-in-law, joined in the performances, further bolstering their repertoire.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Carter explored a solo career, producing numerous albums during this time. Her final album in 1973 even hit the charts of Billboard’s best-selling country albums.

She passed away five years after her final album was released, leaving behind a legacy to her musical family.

11. Nita Strauss

Vinita Sandhya Strauss, more known by her nickname Nita Strauss, is an icon of rock music, from her lifestyle to her music.

The highest point of her career is playing the guitar with the iconic Alice Cooper, in addition to releasing incredibly successful solos such as “Controlled Chaos.” 

She has also been on the covers of magazines repeatedly, and it’s not just because of her musical career. She’s also an accomplished martial arts player and fitness guru. This eventually led her to the world of WWE and computer games. 

Strauss’s music definitely extends way past the mainstream.

12. Nancy Wilson

Rock musician Nancy Wilson is best known as the guitarist for the American rock band Heart, alongside her sister Ann who is the lead singer.

In her teens, Wilson learned how to play the acoustic guitar, and she also performed several times in college. She then moved on to rock, with touches of flamenco and traditional classic tunes.

A defining moment in Wilson’s life was when she watched the Beatles on TV. Since then, she wanted to do what they did for a living, and not soon after, she and her sister formed Heart.

The sister act played rock music throughout the 1970s and beyond, and they gradually ranked higher in fame and success. By the 1990s, they’d already sold more than 35 million records.

13. Yvette Young

Best known as the frontwoman for rock band Covet, Yvette Young is an American artist with Chinese lineage and a voracious appetite for experimentation. 

Even though she teaches music, Young is famous for playing by ear after vocalizing the notes. She rarely works with standard tuning.

A true artist, she is also known to design and paint the covers of her albums, as well as customizing her guitars. 

Young belongs to the digital generation, and she makes good use of online exposure. To date, she has already released two albums and three EPs, and all of them found huge success.

14. Elizabeth Cotten

The story of Elizabeth Cotten is the material that movies are made from. She was born to a modest family in the South where music and singing were a natural part of life. 

As a child, she taught herself how to play the guitar, but being left-handed, she had to play it vertically and plucked it in a special manner. She also had to work as a maid to make a living, but she made it a point to play folk music every now and then.

Before building up a real career, Cotton got married and quit playing music for 40 years. At 60, she got a divorce and moved away.

In a chance encounter, she met with a music producer who rediscovered her talent, and she was once again under the spotlight. 

She received numerous nominations and accolades in the 1980s for her music, including the National Heritage Fellowship in 1984 and a Grammy award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording a year later.

15. Tash Sultana

This young guitarist on our list, Tasha Sultana, was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia.

Like most of the artists on this list, she was a prodigy who learned how to play music when she was three. 

While known for her admirable guitar playing skills, Sultana is also proficient in playing more than twenty other musical instruments. 

This versatility helped her a lot in creating digital music and using the full potential of online exposure.

More than just a musician, Sultana is also a record producer and an engineer, proving that she is indeed a “one-person band” that can do anything.

Wrapping Up Our List Of Well-Known Female Guitarists

All the powerful women on our list are masters of their art. They played in the top music venues across the globe, and their fame is definitely well-deserved.

There are many more female guitarists who left their mark on the music scene. And we’re pretty sure that in the future, we’ll see a lot more!

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Written by Dan Farrant
Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. Since then, he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.