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Great Female Guitarists

Updated on June 3, 2013

I count a female guitarist to be a good female guitarist if she's a good guitarist - if she's a pretty good guitarist 'for a girl' then, for me, that doesn't count. And I count 'good' to be if they (of course) actually play really well, have been influential to other players, and their significance to music history. And, taking all that into consideration, you kind of have to start with ~

Sister Rosetta Tharpe ~

Sister Rosetta was actually a major recording artist in the 1930/40s, but when she set aside church music in the 50s and released several Blues records, many of her gospel fans were offended . . . she still recorded and toured well into the 60s but is today, largely forgotten - however, many guitarists know her well. Listen how early she puts a crunchy Rock & Roll sound into her church music - not many early Rock bands had a sound as heavy as that yet and few could play as well as Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Joan Jett ~

Simply put - Joan Jett is the real deal. She far out-rocks many of her male peers. Not known for lead solo work, I don't think there is any woman who looks more right with a guitar strapped around their shoulder than Joan Jett. Always at full throttle, some of Jett's best work is her covers of other's songs. A giant in the 'significance' department Joan Jett is still a powerhouse live performer.

Bonnie Raitt ~

Bonnie Raitt ~

Bonnie Raitt enjoys a strong musical heritage. Her mother was a pianist and her father, John Raitt, was the original Broadway star of many of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals ("Carousel", "Oklahoma", etc) . . . but her own personal history follows quite a different course - just out of high school Bonnie Raitt starting playing along side and even touring with no less than the likes of John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Raitt is authentic, she's about as far from a 'girl' act as you can get - she plays genuine, gut-level Blues and plays slide right up there with Duane Allman. And, Bonnie Raitt also has a secret weapon - her voice is intoxicating . . . there are times when I'm listening to Bonnie Raitt sing that I don't think there is a more captivatingly beautiful sound.

Susan Tedeschi ~

Married to Derek Trucks, I think the most brilliant & exciting guitar player out there right now, Tedeschi is no slouch herself. As an opening act for B.B. King, Buddy Guy, The Allman Brothers Band, Taj Mahal, and Bob Dylan, Tedeschi gained a following. With a rambunctious guitar style and gifted with just the right voice for the kind of soulful Blues-based music she performs, Tedeschi is a bit tricky to categorize - though born in Boston, she plays that kind of Blues-based, Texas jump, ensemble-band, soulful Rock . . . and she does it very well.

Epilogue (and apology) ~

As for names you'll undoubtedly find on other's list; I would give Melissa Etheridge and Nancy Wilson a very honorable mention, Lita Ford's playing doesn't really appeal to me, and I flat-out just don't 'get' Joni Mitchell (as a guitar player). There are tons of competent chord strummers and tons of speedy scale shredders - to me, that simply is not at all the same thing that the women I've named above do. Music has to have melody, it has to start somewhere and then take you somewhere, simply being loud or fast or even pleasant to listen to is not sufficient for me, it's not my criteria. I want to hear music, music from the heart, not just the fingers, of the artist - if music doesn't move me then I simply would rather listen to music that does move me . . . it's not background, atmosphere, party, noise to me - it either grabs me by the guts and takes me to musicland, or I don't need to hear it.


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