The 10 Greatest Female Guitarists

By Paul Rigg

Which do you think it is easier for a music reviewer to do: try and independently choose the top 10 female guitarists in history or… throw themselves straight into a shark-infested pool?  

Really, it is not so easy to decide between these two options, so this reviewer has decided to throw caution to the wind and use female guitarists ‘top five songs’ from Spotify – the most successful online music streaming service – to produce a list based on some objective figures.

But how do Spotify choose their top five? Online researchers have identified that Spotify sort top tracks by the number of streams in a particular time frame, meaning that while a song might, for example, have the highest total number of streams, it might not be on the top spot. Spotify does not make its full algorithm - nor the time frame it uses - public, and seems to use this method to highlight songs that are trending; nonetheless it does at least provide some kind of an objective guide.

Several qualifications are acknowledged. Firstly, of course, ‘popular’ may not be the ‘greatest’, but perhaps the number of Spotify streams provides an indication of an artist who has both technique and the ability to use it to make a song that resonates. Secondly, some legendary guitarists, like
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, are almost certainly disadvantaged because they are not from the modern age; marketing, voice, and image also clearly play their part.

The universe for this analysis has been drawn from Guitar Player’s recent top 50
. The date chosen for the calculations was 26 October 2018, and the reason that Guitars Exchange has chosen this moment is to pay tribute to the sensational Bonnie Raitt (8 November 1949) on her birthday.   

So here goes with the greatest! The final list (with the total number of their top five streams in brackets) is:    

Joni Mitchell  (122,025,062)

When Rolling Stone compiled its greatest guitarists list of all time in 2003, Joni Mitchell was the highest placed female, and this Guitars Exchange compilation confirms that exalted position.

Mitchell contracted polio when she was nine years old, and that illness forced her to improvise extraordinary alternative tunings that tore up the rule book and led her into opening up entirely new territory as a musician. Often seen with a Martin D28 or an Ibanez LGB300 VYS George Benson signature, her guitar arrangements on Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter or on songs like Dawntreader, define her as perhaps the oustanding female pioneer of the six string.

Bonnie Raitt (50,724,690)

American Bonnie Raitt is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest guitarists of all time and that status is confirmed by her near to top place on this list. Often seen on tour with her customised Fender Strat, or her Guild F-50 big jumbo acoustic, Raitt dominates across the fields of country, rock and blues. It is not for nothing that this guitar legend has played alongside John Lee Hooker, been inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and received 10 Grammy Awards.

Annie Clark (35,218,192)

Annie Clark (aka St Vincent) has released five albums and has gone from strength to strength as both a guitarist and a musician. Often brandishing her Ernie Ball music man St Vincent signature, she shreds like few before, and her skill at distorsion has been compared to
Frank Zappa by his own son.   

Kaki King (28,509, 481)

American Kaki King  has produced 10 studio albums and was the only woman on Rolling Stones’ 2006 New Guitar Gods list. She is a multi instrumentalist who shines on both lap steel and her Ovation Kaki King signature acoustic. As Dave Grohl once said: “
There are some guitar players that are good and there are some guitar players that are really fucking good. And then there's Kaki King”.

Lita Ford (27,533,271)

Ex-lead guitarist for The Runaways and with a solo careeer that includes a top 10 US Billboard hit, Ford shreds, has chops, and can go as heavy as any guitarist on the planet when required. She has spoken to Guitars Exchange of her great affection for the Gibson chocolate SG and BC Rich Bich double neck guitars.  

6. Orianthi (11,896,541)

Australian Orianthi was due to be Michael Jackson’s lead guitarist on the This Is It tour, but his early death did not stop her meteoric rise to fame. Orianthi plays a PRS SE Orianthi signature electric and has shared stage with Alice Cooper, Richie Sambora and Dave Stewart, among many others.

7. Susan Tedeschi (8,076,833)

This American blues maestro and multiple Grammy Award nominee sometimes opts for a Fender Strat and at other times for a Fender Tele on stage and in the studio. Tedeschi now plays with her husband Derek Trucks in the Tedeschi Trucks Band and has opened for stars as big as Buddy Guy, BB King and Bob Dylan.


8. Ana Popovic (8,076,833)

The constantly innovating Serbian blues guitarist Ana Popovic favours her ’64 and ’57 reissue Strats. Popovic has been nominated for six Blues Music Awards and her albums consistently reach the top of the Billboard Blues charts. It is for good reason that Bruce Springsteen, ‘the Boss’, called her “one helluva guitar player”.

9. Muriel Anderson (2,395,753)

Muriel Anderson, the outstandingly talented American fingerstlyle and harp guitarist, picked out the Ladies Parlor guitar with steel strings made by David Taylor, when she was recently interviewed by Guitars Exchange. She has played alongside Tommy Emmanuel,
Chet Atkins and Victor Wooten, and released over 20 albums.

10. Memphis Minnie  (1,666,566)

It says something extraordinarily special that a black woman, one of 13 siblings, born in 1897, can make a list that is clearly biased in favour of modern artists and marketing methods. Memphis Minnie is known both for her National New Yorker guitar and her enormous influence on a huge range of artists, including Led Zeppelin.

So there you have it; this Guitars Exchange reviewer’s top 10 female guitarists in history!
 Now… where is that shark pool…?