50 Sensational Female Guitarists

March 30, 2017
TOP PHOTO: Rob Loud (Orianthi) | Getty Images; below: The May 2017
cover of GUITAR PLAYER with Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

We promised at the beginning of this auspicious and celebratory 50th-anniversary year of Guitar Player that the staff would use the magazine’s “elder statesperson” role to dream about the possible future of the guitar and to honor its past. As part of that mission, we are recognizing 50 female guitarists who have made—or who are making—tremendous contributions to guitarcraft and guitar culture.

Our initial list expanded to more than 100 players—all of them excellent and worthy—and the editorial crew of myself, Art Thompson, Kevin Owens, Jude Gold, Jimmy Leslie, Michael Ross, and Dave Hunter (with some consulting from Women’s International Music Network founder Laura Whitmore) were thrown into “Heavy Debate Mode” to reduce the number to 50. (We’ve had the same slugfests of subjective opinions with similar issues in the past, such as “The 50 Greatest Guitar Tones of All Time,” “The 40 Most Influential Rock Solos Ever,” and “50 Rhythm Guitar Gods.”)

These discussions are always fraught with danger. Favorites get left out. Readers get cranky. And yet, arguing with the editors over their choices is part of the fun, and we all learn even more valuable information from the shared discourse. (Please send your criticisms and comments about this special cover feature to mmolenda@nbmedia.com.)

Well, the staff arguments are now over, and the artists have been selected, so let’s salute 50 truly remarkable guitar players. 

Muriel Anderson
Anderson weaves fantastic spells with her evocative phrasing, stunning technique, and melodic sensibility, and everything is wrapped in a style that almost simultaneously embraces classical, country, flamenco, jazz, and world music. Even more amazing, she’s not just focused on her own career and music. She gives back to the guitar community with her Music for Life Alliance charity, as well as her annual hosting of the exhilarating Muriel Anderson’s All-Star Guitar Night at NAMM, which has helped showcase legions of talented players throughout the years. —MM
Notable Gear: Morris Muriel Anderson Signature; Camps and Tierra Negra flamenco guitars; Paris Banchetti classical; David Taylor, Mike Doolin, and Mike Brittain harp guitars.

Badi Assad
The Brazilian-born Assad—who is the sister of classical guitarists Sérgio and Odair—has won Guitar Player awards and commendations for her albums and fingerstyle playing since 1995. Fearlessly creative and ambitious, she was robbed of her technical talents by focal dystonia from 1998 to 2001, but worked towards a full recovery. In 2003, Assad proved she was back in form by making Three Guitars with Larry Coryell and John Abercrombie. She hasn’t stopped thrilling and astounding audiences since. —MM
Notable Gear: Paul Fischer nylon-string, Frameworks “Angel Wings” guitar, Takamine acoustics, Luna ukulele.

Jennifer Batten
When players talk about Batten’s fiery talents and creativity, it’s like one of those Marvel Comics’ “Nuff said” moments. After all, she was profiled early on in GP’s Spotlight column, expanded two-hand-tapping techniques while at Musicians Institute, went on to burn up stages for the pop powerhouse Michael Jackson, and then played guitar with the ever-evolving genius, Jeff Beck. Seeking compelling ways to get her own instrumentals in front of a larger audience, Batten pioneered a solo-multimedia show integrating film clips, career stories, and, obviously, her jaw-dropping music. Somehow, she also finds time to “play it forward” with seminars and Skype lessons. —MM
Notable Gear: Washburn JB100 Signature, Fishman TriplePlay, Batten String Damper.

Liona Boyd
Boyd graced our cover in July 1987, and won Classical Guitarist of the Year honors in our Reader’s Poll so many times that she was selected for the magazine’s Gallery of the Greats. Even the maestro, Andrés Segovia, voiced his approval of her talents—though he may have frowned on her mission to expand classical guitar’s reach by performing with non-classical players such as Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Chet Atkins, Alex Lifeson, and Steve Morse. Like Badi Assad, Boyd has also struggled with focal dystonia, and, in 2002, had to reorient her performance technique. —MM
Notable Gear: German Vazquez Rubio nylon-string.

Nili Brosh
One of the youngest teachers on the faculty of Berklee College of Music’s summer programs, Brosh celebrated her own 2009 graduation from the esteemed music school by releasing her first solo album (Through the Looking Glass) in 2010. The release showcased her graceful melodies, articulate tone, and tasteful shredding, and she was almost immediately asked to join some pretty formidable bands—most notably solo projects by Tony MacAlpine and her brother Ethan—as well as to perform with Guthrie Govan, Andy Timmons, and Stuart Hamm. —MM
Notable Gear: Ibanez RG Prestige 7-string, EMG pickups, Peavey JSX amp.

Nori Bucci
Bucci is a force of nature. Slightly hunched over her Strat, eyes closed, oblivious to all but the music in her head, she would unleash whirlwinds of melodies, licks, riffs, and single-note lines—often within the same solo section. Her intense yet beautiful work in the band Gamalon is fairly well documented on YouTube, and she also released three solo albums. These days, Bucci appears to be more interested in her other talents—drawing, sculpting, and writing—than blowing minds with her guitar. Great for her—a loss for us. —MM
Notable Gear: ’96 Fender Stratocaster, Fender Jazzmaster Ultralight head and 1x12 cab, Boss GT-6, Martin 00C-MAE, Line 6 Variax 700 acoustic.

Maybelle Carter
“Mother” Maybelle invented a revolutionary fingerstyle-picking technique so musically valuable that it’s still used today (“Carter Stratch;” sometimes called “Carter Family Picking” or “Thumb Brush”). In fact, the guitar she famously used that approach on with the Carter Family and her solo work—a Gibson L-5—has become so legendary that it now resides in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. Carter’s imprint on guitar—and country music in general—is so deep that one can’t imagine the country-western style existing without her. —MM
Notable Gear: ’28 Gibson L-5.

As if it weren’t enough to be a fine guitarist—GP twice named her “Best Classical Flamenco Guitarist in the World”—Charo’s over-the-top looks and performing talents skyrocketed her to fame early on. (By 1967, she had already been on The Ed Sullivan Show four times!) Charo definitely knows how to captivate an audience, and with her solid background in classical music—she began studying classical and flamenco guitar in a school in Madrid founded by Andrés Segovia for underprivileged children—she has single-handedly advanced flamenco music for the betterment of humanity, even though she has also expressed some regret that her stage persona has tended to overshadow her musicianship and seriousness as a guitar player. —AT
Notable Gear: Various classical and flamenco guitars.

Laura Chavez
Chavez’s 6-string magic has elevated the blues of Lara Price and the late Candye Kane to world-class levels. She has carved out a stinging, soulful, and personal sound that encompasses Texas, California, Chicago, and Mississippi styles—all derived directly from the originators. Talented fingers and heavy strings let her deliver maximum tone with minimal distortion. Authentic blues guitar doesn’t get any better than this. —MR
Notable Gear: Fender Stratocaster, Vero Twentieth Century Limited, Fender Bassman.

Deborah Coleman
Blues guitarist Coleman once said she was inspired to play by Jimi Hendrix and the Monkees. There are certainly echoes of Hendrix in her sexy bends, liquid tone, stabbing note choices, and sweet sustain (which, at times, can get to David Gilmour levels of near infinity). But it’s a challenge to find the Monkees in there—unless the band’s pop hits informed her almost spell-like sense of melody. —MM
Notable Gear: Gibson Les Paul.

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