28 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Guitar Players

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

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. However, there are some amazing female guitarists with incredible talents that deserve some of the spotlight too.

In this article, we’ll talk about 28 of the most famous female guitar players that are sadly often overlooked. Get to know them by reading on!

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 sped 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, Orianthe’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 and 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.

Carter 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.

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.

Young 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 20 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.

16. Naoko Yamano

Fans of Japanese bands are sure to know Naoko Yamano, who, together with her sister Atsuko and friend Michie Nakatani, founded the pop-punk band Shonen Knife in 1981. She is also the group’s guitarist.

From their inception to 1990, Naoko and the other members of the band brought Shonen Knife to great fame in Japan. They had already dropped four albums in their home country before gaining international notice.

Then in 1991, long-time fan Kurt Cobain invited them to open for Nirvana’s European tour, where Cobain also did a cover of the Shonen Knife’s song “Twist Barbie.” After this, as they say, is history. The band signed with a US label to re-release their song with English lyrics and became popular in the US.

For all the events Shonen Knife experienced, Naoko was with them, shredding her guitar strings. Even now, she and Shonen Knife continue to work their pop-punk magic.

17. Odetta

Most probably know Odetta Holmes—best known simply by her first name—as a singer, actress, and activist. But this music icon was a talented guitarist as well and often played the guitar as she sang and recorded.

The Alabama native had operatic training as a teen and studied music in college, but while touring with a theatre, she fell in love with folk singing and decided to focus on that genre.

Odetta’s career lasted over 50 years, and in these years, she released several albums and appeared on TV, like the Tonight with Belafonte in 1959, where she sang “Water Boy.”

Because of her contribution to the revival of American folk music, Odetta was eventually named Queen of American Folk Music and influenced many notable music icons like Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan.

18. Tracy Chapman

One cannot discuss female guitarists without mentioning Tracy Chapman. The singer-musician is best known for her folk and blues-rock music, which she has been creating accompanied with her guitar-playing since 1986.

Her debut in 1988 with a self-titled album was a critical success, with it topping charts in several countries, including US and UK. The album also won her a Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy.

The track “Fast Car” became her best-known song, which again won Chapman another Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Many of the singer-guitarist’s other albums are multi-Platinum hits. She also won two more Grammys and other awards from various awarding organizations in her career. Currently, though not as prolific as before, Chapman is still active in the music industry.

19. Lita Ford

English-born American glam metal and punk rock musician and singer Lita Ford is well known for her time with the all-female rock band the Runaways. From 1975 to 1979, she was their lead guitarist, helping to push the group to fame with their songs “Cherry Bomb” and “Heartbeat.”

After the Runaways disbanded in 1979, Ford went on to have an even more successful solo career from 1982 to 1995. During this time, she released “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever,” a duet with Ozzy Osbourne that remains her best hit to this day.

After 1995, the singer-guitarist then went on a very long hiatus that lasted over a decade, coming back with the album Wicked Wonderland (2009), which was followed up with Living Like a Runaway (2012). Two years after this last release, Guitar Player bestowed her the Certified Legend Award.

20. Bonnie Raitt

Solo artist Bonnie Raitt has been hitting the airwaves with beautiful blues, folk rock, and country music since 1971. But it wasn’t until 1989, with the release of the album Nick of Time, did Raitt get her big break. The album won her a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

Since then, she’s taken Brownie, her customized Fender Stratocaster, and created more iconic music that has earned her a total—so far and still going strong!—of 13 Grammy awards. The latest win she received was Song of the Year for “Just Like That” at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards in February of 2023.

Ranked by Rolling Stone as the 50th of the greatest singers of all time, Raitt has received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, marking her as one of the most influential country singer and guitarist of the 21st century.

21. St. Vincent

Singer-songwriter Anne Erin Clark, best known as St. Vincent, is also a well-known musician talented in playing not just the guitar but also the bass, keyboards, and percussion. Her musical career began with the choral rock band Polyphonic Spree.

Clark began using the St. Vincent name in 2006 for her debut album, which was released in 2007. The album, Marry Me, was well-received, which started Clark’s rise to popularity.

The next three albums she dropped were all commercial success, but the eponymous fourth album won St. Vincent her first Grammy (Best Alternative Music Album) in 2015.

Four years later, she won another Grammy (Best Rock Song), this time for the song “Masseduction.” And yet another Grammy win was received for her 2021 album, Daddy’s Home.

With so many Grammy wins in such a short number of years, St. Vincent has proved she’s one of the best music artists there is. And like many notable guitarists, she also has a signature guitar line with Music Man, which has a unique angular design.

22. Memphis Minnie

Blues guitarist and singer-songwriter Lizzie Douglas is best known as Memphis Minnie. Raised in Mississippi, she began performing on the streetside before being discovered, along with her husband Joe McCoy, in the late 1920s. The two recorded together until their divorce in 1935.

After this, Minnie began to tour extensively in the South. She remarried three years later and continued recording, including her biggest hit, “Me and My Chauffeur Blues.”

Minnie’s career lasted over three decades with over 200 songs recorded. After her health started declining in the mid-1950s, she retired, performing only occasionally. She passed away in 1973 after suffering a stroke.

23. Barbara Lynn

National Heritage Fellowship recipient Barbara Lynn was performing in local Texas clubs before she was discovered by swamp pop singer Joe Berry, who introduced her to several record labels.

This was the opportunity she needed because, soon after, the left-handed singer-guitarist released her greatest hit, “You’ll Lose a Good Thing,” which topped the R&B chart and peaked at #8 on the US pop chart.

The song has been covered by several music artist since, including Freddy Fender and Aretha Franklin. It was even used in the movie Hairspray.

During her career, Lynn toured with a number of other iconic artists like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Marvin Gaye, among many others. Though the now 81-year-old singer is still active in the music industry, she only performs occasionally.

24. Wanda Jackson

Called Queen of Rockabilly for being one of the first women to play the genre, Wanda Jackson has been well known in the music scene since the 1950s. She began first performing country music, but over the years, she’s experimented with the rock and roll and gospel genres.

Jackson started playing the guitar at the young age of six, and during her teen years, she would often play in gigs in Oklahoma City. She was still in high school when she signed her first major label.

Then in 1954, Jackson released her debut single, “You Can’t Have My Love,” which proved to be a success, peaking at #8 in Billboard’s Most Played C&W in Juke Boxes. Two years later, she had another song chart, “I Gotta Know,” this time at #15.

Jackson officially retired in 2019 after suffering a stroke the year before. By this time, however, she had already been inducted into several halls of fame: Rock and Roll, Iowa Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Country Music, German Country Music, and International Gospel.

25. Liona Boyd

It’s not often you hear of a classic guitarist, but Liona Boyd is one. She began playing the guitar as a teen and studied with many classical guitar instructors, including Narciso Yepes and Julian Bream.

After graduating with a music degree in 1972, she went on to perform at Carnegie Hall and toured Canada. She then released her debut album two years later and went on to drop 25 more albums in her career.

Boyd has collaborated with several music artists over the years, including Eric Clapton, Olivia Newton-John, and Al Di Meola, to name just a few. Her work has gained her much acclaim, enough even to be dubbed the First Lady of Guitar.

26. Vicki Peterson

Born in Los Angeles, California, Vicki Peterson started playing the guitar seriously before she was even 10. Throughout high school, she was in various bands.

In the 1980s, she and her sister, Debbie, as well as their friend Susanna Hoffs, formed the pop rock band Bangles. With them, Peterson grew in popularity. They are known for a number of hit songs that rocked the airwaves during that decade, including “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Eternal Flame.”

When Bangles separated in 1989, Peterson would lend her guitar-playing skills to Psycho Sisters and Continental Drifters. When Bangles came together again in 1998, she returned to join them and, to this day, continues to perform with the group.

27. Carrie Brownstein

Seattle-born Carrie Brownstein is one talented artist. She is a guitarist, a singer, a writer, and an actress. However, she’s best known as the guitarist of the bands Excuse 17, Sleater-Kinney, and Wild Flag, though not at the same time.

While Brownstein was still studying, she joined Excuse 17, and when this group disbanded, she and Corin Tucker formed Sleater-Kinney. It is with this band that Brownstein was with for a longer time than the others—from 1994 to 2004.

After their break, Brownstein formed Wild Flag. The band only lasted four years before disbanding, but they were able to release one album.

When Sleater-Kinney formed again in 2014, Brownstein rejoined them. Their recent work is an album titled Path of Wellness that they released in 2021.

28. Corin Tucker

We cannot only mention one part of Sleater-Kinney when the duo consists of not one but two guitarists! The other co-founder of the band, Corin Tucker, is as talented on the guitar as her partner, Carrie Brownstein. Together, they dropped 6 charting albums out of 10, including the #2 Heatseekers hit One Beat.

However, Sleater-Kinney isn’t Tucker’s first band. She was a member of Heavens to Betsy, one of the bands pioneering the riot grrrl movement of the early 1990s.

During Sleater-Kinney’s separation, Tucker created her own band, called the Corin Tucker Band, and also joined Filthy Friends, an alternative rock group known for the albums Invitation and Emerald Valley.

In 2014, Tucker and Brownstein got back together to start Sleater-Kinney again, dropping No Cities to Love as their first album in almost eight years. They continued to release two more over the past four years and are still going strong.

Summing 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.

From classics to genres of rock, blues, punk, or R&B, each one of these queens have influenced many guitarists—male and female alike—with their innovative techniques, unique playing style, and original music.

However, there are many more female guitarists who left their mark on the music scene; we’re pretty sure that in the future, we’ll see a lot more! But if you believe we’ve missed someone who should be on this list, let us know and we’ll add them here.

Photo of author

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. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.