4 of the Best Female Guitarists of All Time

Guitarists come and go, but some remain legends for years for their contributions to the world of rock, folk, blues, and beyond. And these four female musicians deserve some credit for being some of the very best guitarists of all time.

Videos by American Songwriter

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a tiered list, nor is it a definitive list of the best female guitarists of all time. Think of it as a curated look into a few stellar guitarists that deserve more recognition.

1. Sister Rosetta Tharpe

This list of the best female guitarists of all time wouldn’t be worth its salt without mentioning the incomparable Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Tharpe is widely considered one of the best guitarists in history, period. She was a trailblazer for rock and roll artists today. 

Tharpe experimented with distorted electric guitar riffs in a way that hadn’t been done before. She was also an incredibly talented acoustic guitar player. Her hits like “Strange Things Happening Every Day” and “Didn’t It Rain?” are essential listening, as well as great examples of Tharpe’s ability to blend gospel with proto-rock, jazz, and country.

2. Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth Cotten was a distinctive folk-blues musician and one of few left-handed players to make history. In fact, Cotten learned to play the banjo by taking her brother’s right-side banjo and playing it upside down. When she picked up the guitar, she used the same process to learn how to play it and became a certified legend. “Freight Train” and “In The Sweet By And By” are essential listening.

3. Memphis Minnie

Memphis Minnie (a.k.a. Lizzie Douglas) was one of the first guitarists to master the picking style that is common today. She was an icon in the Beale Street blues world in Memphis and known for her backing tracks for a number of musicians at the time. She even beat Muddy Waters in a cutting contest. Now that’s legendary.

4. Emily Remler

Emily Remler grew up with rock music, but she was known for her modern guitar talents of the bop tradition. Creative, unafraid to experiment, and prolific, Remler recorded with the likes of Astrud Gilberto and Larry Coryell during her heyday. She also played around with funk, though there aren’t any surviving recordings of her playing funk guitar today. 

Unfortunately, Remler left us far too soon, and one can only imagine what she would have done with her guitar-playing skills if she had more time.

Photo courtesy of Gibson

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Leave a Reply

3 Female-Fronted Rock Projects from the 1980s Whose Music Has Stood the Test of Time

On This Day in 1972: Bill Withers Scored His Only No. 1 Hot on the ‘Billboard’ Hot 100 with “Lean on Me”

On This Day in 1972: Bill Withers Scored His Only No. 1 Hit on the ‘Billboard’ Hot 100 with “Lean on Me”