There are plenty of bands out there, but only a few have lead guitarists who are women. These musicians can rock just as hard as their male counterparts, so it’s time to take a look at some incredible bands out there that feature a woman shredding a six-string. Here’s our list of 12 of them.
What are bands with female guitarists? Female lead guitarists are scarce in today’s music industry, but iconic rock bands featuring female guitarists include Heart, The Runaways, The Bangles, The Cranberries, Sonic Youth, Le Tigre, My Bloody Valentine, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Slowdive, Hiatus Kaiyote, and L7.
12 Bands with Female Guitarists
1. Nancy Wilson of Heart
Nancy Wilson is an American musician and songwriter. She is best known as a guitarist and vocalist for her work with Heart and earlier contributions to Led Zeppelin. This female guitarist has been rocking since she was in her teens, playing in coffeehouses, busking on Venice Beach, then eventually developing into one of rock’s most distinctive lead guitarists while fronting and writing songs for Heart.
2. Joan Jett of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Joan Jett is an American rock guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, and occasional actress. She is best known for her work as Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, along with a string of solo albums she has released since 1980. Her rock ‘n’ roll is loud and organic, with bigger-than-life hooks reminiscent of AC/DC and the Stones. Jett’s raucous, tough-girl demeanor is merely the cherry on top. Many have tried, but few can match her vibrant personality, genuine delivery, and aura.
3. Lita Ford of The Runaways
Lita Ford was the lead guitarist for the all-female rock band the Runaways. The Runaways gained notoriety in the rock industry thanks to their punkish sound and provocative lyrics. The band did not have much success in the United States, but they were extremely successful in other countries, particularly Japan. Lita Ford launched a successful glam metal solo career that peaked in the late 1980s. Ford’s most popular song, “Close My Eyes Forever,” a duet with Ozzy Osbourne, reached No. 8 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1989.
4. Viki Peterson of The Bangles
Vicki Peterson is the lead guitarist of the Bangles. She and her sister, Debbi Peterson, formed The Bangles in 1981. The band’s biggest hits include Manic Monday, Walk Like an Egyptian, and Eternal Flame. A few years after the band’s breakup, Vicki Peterson pursued a solo career.
5. Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries
Dolores O’Riordan is best known as a vocalist and guitarist for The Cranberries. Rock, pop, alternative rock, and folk music from the ’90s to the present day have all been influenced by this Irish singer and guitarist. A prolific songwriter, O’Riordan has been hailed as one of the most influential female artists of all time. Her unmistakable voice makes her instantly recognizable to millions of fans around the world.
6. Kathleen Hanna of Le Tigre
Kathleen Hanna is the guitarist for Le Tigre, a feminist punk band that played an essential role in the 1990s Riot Grrrl movement. Kathleen Hanna began to play music during high school when she met Billy Karren, who later became her husband for a short time. Kathleen Hanna is perhaps best known as a Bikini Kill and Le Tigre member, but she has also been active as a spoken word artist, writer, director, and actor.
7. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth
Kim Gordon is an American musician, singer, and songwriter best known for her work with the alternative rock band Sonic Youth as the bassist, guitarist, and vocalist. In 1981, Kim and Thurston Moore formed Sonic Youth. Before the end of the 1980s, she and Moore married in 1984, and the band issued six albums on independent labels. Beginning with Goo in 1990, they would release nine studio albums on the major label DGC Records.
8. Rachel Goswell of Slowdive
Rachel Goswell is an English singer-songwriter and musician who rose to notoriety as the vocalist and guitarist of Slowdive, a shoegaze band founded in 1989. When Slowdive shifted to a more country/folk-rock style, Goswell, Neil Halstead, Ian McCutcheon, and former Chapterhouse member Simon Rowe formed Mojave 3. Waves Are Universal, her first solo album, was released in 2004 on 4AD Records.
9. Bilinda Butcher of My Bloody Valentine
Bilinda Butcher is an English singer-songwriter and musician best known for her work with the alternative rock band My Bloody Valentine as a vocalist and guitarist. My Bloody Valentine’s non-album single “Strawberry Wine” and the band’s second mini-album, Ecstasy, both released in 1987 on Lazy Records, featured Butcher as co-vocalist and co-guitarist. She sang and played the guitar on all subsequent My Bloody Valentine albums until Loveless, the band’s second studio album (1991).
10. Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote
Naomi Saalfield, better known by her stage name Nai Palm, is an Australian musician known for her work with the jazz/funk band Hiatus Kaiyote as a vocalist and guitarist. Choose Your Weapon, the band’s 2015 album, debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
11. Annie Clark of St. Vincent
No list of female guitarists is complete without Annie Clark, professionally known as St Vincent. St. Vincent, who performs solo and has worked with other musicians such as David Byrne, is known for her experimental guitar playing style and has received recognition from Guitar World and Rolling Stone publications.
12. Donita Sparks of L7
Donita Sparks is a vocalist, guitarist, and composer from the United States who is best known for co-founding the band L7. Sparks was one of few women to emerge as part of second-wave punk. Her signature metallic guitar sound helped define L7’s grunge rock sound, and they became known for their experimental song structures and over-the-top stage antics. L7 has seven studio albums and has performed extensively in the United States, Europe, Japan, Australia, and South America.
When you think of bands with great guitarists, most people probably picture males playing the lead guitar parts and singing backup vocals as well. But there are plenty of female guitarists out there who know how to rock and roll. Hopefully, our list of 12 bands with female guitarists will make you rethink what it means to be a guitarist.
Michaela Jyra Melo is a freelance writer, music obsessive, and professional content creator with a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge with the world. Michaela is a music lover first and foremost. She's passionate about new music and artists, but she also loves to dig into musical instruments and equipment. Michael studies communication at the University of the Philippines. When she's not writing or listening to new music, she can be found reading on her Kindle or traveling somewhere new with friends.