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The fearless female guitarists who’ve rocked the music world

From formidable guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe - who wowed audiences with her guitar licks in the 50s - to more recent icons such as Lita Ford, Joan Jett, and Jennifer Batten, female artists are proving to the industry that the stage is for everyone.

These trailblazers have changed the game for female guitarists around the world by bringing new energy to the music scene, and, importantly, they’ve laid down tracks for others to follow.

Increasingly, women are opting to learn the guitar - both acoustic and electric - and according to a recent study, now account for 50% of all beginner and aspirational players in the UK and US markets. 

Testament to this, Gibson named Lzzy Hale, the frontwoman of the rock band Halestorm, as its first female Brand Ambassador in 2021.  

We take a look at some of the other female guitarists who favour Gibson as their brand of choice.

Mary Ford

Guitarist and singer Mary Ford is the wife of the legendary artist and luthier Les Paul, one of the early pioneers of the modern solid body electric guitar. 

Together they sold six million records and were one of the biggest acts in music in the 50s.

While Les Paul’s reputation as a luthier and innovator grew, Ford helped him reach pop stardom and became one of the first visible female guitarists in mainstream music. 

Bonnie Raitt

The 73-year-old blues singer beat superstars Beyonce, Adele, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Kendrick Lamar to win the coveted Song of the Year award at the Grammys last month.

Bonnie is one of the most respected musicians of her generation with a career that has spanned several decades.

The blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist was often seen playing a Gibson ES-17 cutaway.

Due to stellar performances over the years, Bonnie has racked up 13 Grammy Awards, one Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

She also ranked No. 50 on Rolling Stone's list of the ‘10 Greatest Singers of All Time’ and ranked No. 89 on the magazine's list of the ‘10 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

Joan Jett

No one rocks harder than Joan Jett. 

After finding fame with the Runaways, the seismic teen girl rockers of the ’70s, Joan struck out as frontwoman and guitarist with her own band, the Blackhearts, scoring a string of hits that sealed her place as a rock icon. 

In her 40-plus years as a singer, songwriter, activist, and entrepreneur, Joan has been an inspiration to girls (and boys) who rock all around the world.

Joan is a huge fan of Gibson too and in 2019 the brand revealed the Joan Jett Signature ES-33 collection. Developed with the star over a two-year period, the stunning limited-edition guitar merges classic ES aesthetics with modern features.

Lita Ford

Mother of metal Lita Ford was the lead guitarist for the all female rock band, The Runaways, in the late 1970s.

Together with Joan Jett, they became the first true girl rock band of the 1970s. Lita later embarked on a successful solo career that hit its peak in the late 1980s.

Her 1989 single duet with Ozzy Osbourne remains Lita’s most successful song.

Lita was a pioneer for women in rock! She was the first woman to appear on the cover of heavy metal magazine, Hit Parader, and was the first woman in two decades to be inducted into Circus magazine's Hall of Fame. Lita is considered the foremost female guitarist in the macho world of heavy metal.

The rock icon enjoyed playing both the Gibson Les Paul Standard and Gibson Les Paul Custom.

Orianthi

Platinum-selling recording artist and world-class guitarist Orianthi was only six when she fell in love with the electric guitar, thanks to her dad’s sizable record collection.

She has since gone on to work with superstars including Steve Vai, Michael Jackson, Carlos Santana, Prince, ZZ Top, and Alice Cooper.

Orianthi’s music is a blend of rock, pop, and blues, and her powerful vocals and guitar riffs make for a captivating live performance. 

Gibson also launched a collaboration with the Australian singer-songwriter, the SJ-200 Acoustic Custom, in 2021.

Commenting about the collection, Orianthi has said: “Creating a signature acoustic with the amazing Gibson team was truly an honor! I couldn’t be happier!” 

Emily Wolfe

True shredhead Emily Wolfe has been breathing new life into classic rock ‘n’ roll with her guitar chops and original songwriting.

Hailing from Austin, Texas, Emily started playing the guitar at the age of five and knew immediately that the instrument would be a defining part of her life. 

The singer launched her solo career in 2012, and two years later independently released her debut EP, Roulette, before going on to tour with The Pretenders, Toadies, and Heart.

Emily also teamed up with producer and keyboardist of the Alabama Shakes, Ben Tanner, and released her debut self-titled album in 2019.

The rising star has been featured and profiled by The Wall Street Journal, MTV, NPR, and American Songwriter.

Emily is endorsed by Gibson and Epiphone.

Nancy Wilson

With 35 million records sold, rock icon Nancy Wilson is one of the most influential musicians in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

A guitar virtuoso, Nancy - alongside her sister Ann - led the multi-platinum rock group, Heart.

The pair were recently honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at last month’s Grammys.

Nancy is revered as an ingenious guitar player who helped carve out a place for women to not only front a rock band but dominate the rock stage too.

Heart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. That same year Nancy and her sister were honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The pair also achieved "the longest span of top 10 albums on the Billboard charts by a female-led band." 

Nancy often favoured the Gibson Les Paul and the Gibson SG was her guitar of choice for live versions of the hit song, Barracuda.

Supporting female artists

There are hundreds more women – too long to list here – who have shaped and changed the music industry globally and have rightfully earned their place as successful musicians across all genres.

This week, we will be celebrating all of them to mark International Women’s Day. If you’re a musician, or simply enjoy listening to music, come along to our courtyard where you can hear other musicians jam and get to know the local music scene.

If you’re thinking about learning to play the guitar – or another instrument - you can speak to one of our experts at our academy, Music by Art of Guitar, based in Motor City. 

If you loved this blog, don’t forget to share it.

Mary Ford

Guitarist and singer Mary Ford is the wife of the legendary artist and luthier Les Paul, one of the early pioneers of the modern solid body electric guitar. 

Together they sold six million records and were one of the biggest acts in music in the 50s.

While Les Paul’s reputation as a luthier and innovator grew, Ford helped him reach pop stardom and became one of the first visible female guitarists in mainstream music. 

Bonnie Raitt

The 73-year-old blues singer beat superstars Beyonce, Adele, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Kendrick Lamar to win the coveted Song of the Year award at the Grammys last month.

Bonnie is one of the most respected musicians of her generation with a career that has spanned several decades.

The blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist was often seen playing a Gibson ES-17 cutaway.

Due to stellar performances over the years, Bonnie has racked up 13 Grammy Awards, one Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

She also ranked No. 50 on Rolling Stone's list of the ‘10 Greatest Singers of All Time’ and ranked No. 89 on the magazine's list of the ‘10 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

Joan Jett

No one rocks harder than Joan Jett. 

After finding fame with the Runaways, the seismic teen girl rockers of the ’70s, Joan struck out as frontwoman and guitarist with her own band, the Blackhearts, scoring a string of hits that sealed her place as a rock icon. 

In her 40-plus years as a singer, songwriter, activist, and entrepreneur, Joan has been an inspiration to girls (and boys) who rock all around the world.

Joan is a huge fan of Gibson too and in 2019 the brand revealed the Joan Jett Signature ES-33 collection. Developed with the star over a two-year period, the stunning limited-edition guitar merges classic ES aesthetics with modern features.

Lita Ford

Mother of metal Lita Ford was the lead guitarist for the all female rock band, The Runaways, in the late 1970s.

Together with Joan Jett, they became the first true girl rock band of the 1970s. Lita later embarked on a successful solo career that hit its peak in the late 1980s.

Her 1989 single duet with Ozzy Osbourne remains Lita’s most successful song.

Lita was a pioneer for women in rock! She was the first woman to appear on the cover of heavy metal magazine, Hit Parader, and was the first woman in two decades to be inducted into Circus magazine's Hall of Fame. Lita is considered the foremost female guitarist in the macho world of heavy metal.

The rock icon enjoyed playing both the Gibson Les Paul Standard and Gibson Les Paul Custom.

Orianthi

Platinum-selling recording artist and world-class guitarist Orianthi was only six when she fell in love with the electric guitar, thanks to her dad’s sizable record collection.

She has since gone on to work with superstars including Steve Vai, Michael Jackson, Carlos Santana, Prince, ZZ Top, and Alice Cooper.

Orianthi’s music is a blend of rock, pop, and blues, and her powerful vocals and guitar riffs make for a captivating live performance. 

Gibson also launched a collaboration with the Australian singer-songwriter, the SJ-200 Acoustic Custom, in 2021.

Commenting about the collection, Orianthi has said: “Creating a signature acoustic with the amazing Gibson team was truly an honor! I couldn’t be happier!” 

Emily Wolfe

True shredhead Emily Wolfe has been breathing new life into classic rock ‘n’ roll with her guitar chops and original songwriting.

Hailing from Austin, Texas, Emily started playing the guitar at the age of five and knew immediately that the instrument would be a defining part of her life. 

The singer launched her solo career in 2012, and two years later independently released her debut EP, Roulette, before going on to tour with The Pretenders, Toadies, and Heart.

Emily also teamed up with producer and keyboardist of the Alabama Shakes, Ben Tanner, and released her debut self-titled album in 2019.

The rising star has been featured and profiled by The Wall Street Journal, MTV, NPR, and American Songwriter.

Emily is endorsed by Gibson and Epiphone.

Nancy Wilson

With 35 million records sold, rock icon Nancy Wilson is one of the most influential musicians in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

A guitar virtuoso, Nancy - alongside her sister Ann - led the multi-platinum rock group, Heart.

The pair were recently honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at last month’s Grammys.

Nancy is revered as an ingenious guitar player who helped carve out a place for women to not only front a rock band but dominate the rock stage too.

Heart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. That same year Nancy and her sister were honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The pair also achieved "the longest span of top 10 albums on the Billboard charts by a female-led band." 

Nancy often favoured the Gibson Les Paul and the Gibson SG was her guitar of choice for live versions of the hit song, Barracuda.

Supporting female artists

There are hundreds more women – too long to list here – who have shaped and changed the music industry globally and have rightfully earned their place as successful musicians across all genres.

This week, we will be celebrating all of them to mark International Women’s Day. If you’re a musician, or simply enjoy listening to music, come along to our courtyard where you can hear other musicians jam and get to know the local music scene.

If you’re thinking about learning to play the guitar – or another instrument - you can speak to one of our experts at our academy, Music by Art of Guitar, based in Motor City. 

If you loved this blog, don’t forget to share it.

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