Guitar has long been thought of as a boys club. Seeing the guitar world this way is short sighted, and will have you missing out on a ton of great players. I’ll never forget watching Michael Jackson’s tour documentary, This Is It and seeing Orianthi absolutely stun on guitar. I then saw her trade riffs with none other than Steve Vai, and if you can hang with Vai, you’re OK in my book.
Vai later released a compilation album on his Favored Nations label featuring Orianthi and other amazing female guitar players entitled She Rocks Volume 1. If you haven’t heard this album yet, go out and grab it!
Whether it be Orianthi and more current guitar players like Gabriela Quintero, or legends like Bonnie Raitt and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, there is a wealth of great female guitar players out there. Here’s a list of my favorite 8:
Nita Strauss - Nita Strauss is a powerhouse guitar player. She’s best known for her work with classic rocker Alice Cooper, but she also shreds for the all female lineup of the Iron Maidens, an Iron Maiden tribute band. Her guitar work even shows up in video game soundtracks (Heroes of the Storm and Metal Gear Rising). Nita’s style is incredible. Whether she’s playing technical sweeping patterns or going from one end of the neck to the other (that’d make Yngwie proud), her playing is relentless and heavy! Her contribution to the She Rocks album is a great place to start checking out her playing.
St. Vincent - On the opposite end of the guitar spectrum you have St. Vincent. Recently featured on the cover of Guitar World, St. Vincent is a modern day guitar hero. She first started out in trippy bands like the Polyphonic Spree and even backed up Sufjan Stevens. Both of those artists make me understand what was to come with her solo efforts.
I remember hearing the bombastic sound of Digital Witness and falling in love right away. She has her own funky looking signature guitar from Music Man, which has a truly unique shape. Her music is layered in an exciting way, and each listen presents the listener with a new sound to hear. She uses effects in a fun way, and turns her pop rock into something extra special to listen to.
Bonnie Raitt - Where do you even begin with Bonnie Raitt? She is a legend of guitar, and her voice is absolutely beautiful. Whether she’s strumming away on a smooth Something to Talk About or showing off her slide prowess on Thing Called Love, Bonnie is killing it at all times.
I’ll never forget watching her tear it up at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads guitar festival. Her slide playing is incredible, and the New Yorker even wrote about how the slide was Bonnie’s second voice. She’s surely inspired future slide players to come. If you’re looking for some feel good music, check out Bonnie Raitt.
Kaki King - When I first heard Kaki King, I couldn’t believe my ears. I first heard King 14 years ago, on her Everybody Loves You album. The playing was percussive in a way I hadn’t really heard before.
When Kaki plays, she’s using the entire guitar. She strums, taps, smacks the guitar, uses looper pedals and harmonics in a very interesting way to produce very trance-like songs. Her signature guitar is an acoustic Ovation, and it sounds beautiful on all of her albums. Go listen to Kaki King, and then go pick up your acoustic and get inspired!
Gabriela Quintero - In the same vein of Kaki King, I also love listening to Gabriela Quintero. I think most folks got into Gabriela’s band Rodrigo y Gabriela when they heard them doing metal and rock covers on their self titled album. The duo didn’t stop there though. Rodrigo y Gabriela continue to put out albums to this day, with their signature style of flamenco crossed with rock/metal.
Check out this video of the pair playing amazing lead and rhythm parts together. They also use the entire guitar for melodic and rhythmic effects, strumming, percussive playing, and more. This is some of the most impressive rhythm playing I’ve heard in years.
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Orianthi - I wish Orianthi wasn’t defined by her pop rock hit According to You. While it’s a fun pop song, there’s some seriously shred-worthy licks in there. Orianthi can really play, whether that be tastefully playing licks with her short stint as Michael Jackson’s guitar player or covering Hendrix’s Voodoo Child, her playing is clean and sounds great.
She’s also shared the stage with other guitar heroes like Carlos Santana and Steve Vai. Let’s be honest, if you’re going to hang with any of those legends, you have to be good, and she is!
I hope we get to see a full length guitar album from Orianthi in the future. Orianthi is a big fan of PRS Guitars, and got her own signature SE a while back. It’s a great starter guitar if you can find it on the market. There are tons of clips of Orianthi’s playing on YouTube. Start here for some great playing.
Gretchen Menn - Gretchen Menn loves guitar and music, and everything that goes with it. At least that’s what I can guess from listening to her speak at length. She seems like a musician’s musician. She’s a clasically trained guitar player who can play Bach, rock, gypsy jazz, talk about composing, and is all sorts of funny too.
She’s most often found playing a Music Man Silhouette electric, or a beautiful Santa Cruz OM acoustic. She recently completed an album that is a concept album based on Dante’s Inferno, which showcases her dizzying electric guitar playing, weaving in and out of beautiful string sections. She teamed up with another one of my favorite guitar players who also loves orchestration and classical music, Daniele Gottardo, and it shows in the amazing arrangements.
Kat Dyson - I’m sure I’ve heard Kat Dyson play with Prince and his New Power Generation, but where I first heard her speak was the No Guitar is Safe podcast. Kat Dyson has played with everyone from Cyndi Lauper to the P Funk Allstars, but she’s most known as having been a featured guitarist with Prince.
She wields any number of beautiful PRS guitars, and is one of the most funky guitar players I have ever heard. Not only can she play, but she sounded incredibly humble, which is always nice to hear from a player of her stature. Her rhythm tone is funky, her lead tone is smooth, and she jams like Hendrix. She’s so versatile in her playing, once adding her guitar and vocal talents to Prince’s band, or playing with her current gig in Italian star Zucchero’s band, the playing is always tasteful.