We crunched the numbers on ten recent 'world's best guitarist' lists. Where are the women?

February 14, 2019 by Daniel Lee, The Conversation
There are some great women guitarists but they struggle to make it into the rock canon. Credit: Shutterstock

Who is currently regarded as the greatest guitarist of all time? It's a hard question to answer but plenty have tried. In the last decade, a plethora of lists have sought to rank our guitar greats, drawing variously on panels of experts, lone "specialists", and public opinion polls.

My colleagues and I recently analysed ten such lists, which were published on the websites of music journals such as Rolling Stone, Louder and Guitar World, industry groups such as WatchMojo and UDiscover Music and online communities including Guitar Habits.

Overwhelmingly, we found Jimi Hendrix in the number one spot with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page often locked in a wrestling match for second ranking. Remarkably, among the 33 guitarists mentioned in the top ten places across these lists, not one was a woman.

By giving each guitarist a score from one to ten for their positions across the lists, we created an assimilated meta-list showing the top ten guitarists of all time (as inferred by industry and popular media discourse). This list contained from one to ten: Hendrix, Page, Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chuck Berry, Keith Richards and Dave Gilmour.

Other guitarists mentioned in the lists included Jeff Beck, Queen's Brian May, Carlos Santana, Dimebag Darryl from Pantera, Slash from Guns N' Roses, and Duane Allman.

Total score is calculated by giving each guitarist a score from 1 to 10 for their position in a list, and then summing across all lists (ie. if the guitarist was ranked 1st in one list, they would be given a score of 10 for that list). List count is the number of top ten lists the guitarist is featured in (out of 10). Credit: The Conversation

Joni Mitchell was the highest ranking female in any of the lists at twelfth spot on the PurpleClover ranking. But where were female blues legends Bonnie Raitt (who scraped in at 89 on the Rolling Stone list) or multiple Grammy nominee Susan Tedeschi? Where is Orianthi, a young Australian guitarist who shared a stage with Michael Jackson and continues to tour the world with other major artists? Why are women being written out of the canon in this way?

The author of the UDiscoverMusic article wrote: "Believe us when we say, women guitar players are in short supply on these lists, and as much as we love Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt and Chantel McGregor, to name just three, they just did not make the grade."

But are talented women guitarists really in such short supply?

Guitar wielding female rock legends certainly exist. Think of Joan Jett, Melissa Etheridge, Tracy Chapman and the genre defying St. Vincent. Consider the American virtuosos Nita Strauss and Jennifer Batten, renowned freelance guitarists who have performed respectively with Alice Cooper and Michael Jackson. (Batten played lead guitar on Michael Jackson's Bad, Dangerous and HIStory world tours).

Young female guitarists are out there in large numbers around the world, some having developed impressive on-line followings, including Swiss fingerstyle artist Gabriella Quevedo and French rock virtuoso Tina S..

A recent study by Fender suggested that 50% of new guitar players are women; Guitar World magazine cited the influence of Taylor Swift as the reason young girls are taking up the instrument.

Is part of the problem here the age and gender of the people who compile these canonical lists? There is also a bias towards certain musical genres. All the guitarists in the top ten positions on the lists are rock or blues players: there are no jazz, classical or world music guitarists. There is also an Anglo-American monopoly – no Australian made it to any of the top tens, not even AC DC's Angus Young – and the youngest guitarist on the meta-list is baby boomer Eddie Van Halen.

Is the guitar hero a creation of the 1960s and 70s and therefore outdated? Do we need a new perspective on guitar godliness? Do these lists perpetuate the idea that only men of a certain age can be "greats" in these genres?

Our study suggests online guitar community discourse is simply granting more exposure to already venerated guitar heroes. What role music education has had, or will have, on this is unclear. When I called for students of contemporary guitar to participate in my research project, currently in progress at the University of Tasmania, on the influence of tertiary music education in Australia, 95% of respondents were male. (Of course this may say more about who responds to surveys than the gender balance of university contemporary music courses.)

But given that plenty of young people are learning guitar, one wonders if music teachers are teaching their favourite music to the next generation—and thus replicating old ideas of the canon.

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5 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2019
I've got Memphis Minnie, Geeshie Wiley, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe,

I know Joanna Connor(I've even had a few facebook email exchanged with her), I know of plenty of moderns, I've done best of of Orianthi(I was even listening to her last night), how about Violet Heart? She has health issues.

I also found Emily Wolfe

I think Tina S is that one girl I tried to turn her on to Mick Taylor and the blues over a decade ago, but maybe I should ask her.

I've been saying that the blues and rock has gone to the women recently; but, a big problem is the Mtv's and the popular press are not into the blues and blues/rock lately - not even for the males. When's the last time you've seen a Guns and Roses band come into prominance? Alex Masi is still scratching for money to pay for new records. John Mayall is still unknown.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2019
The fact that some women compare themselves with men in specific kind of achievements and that they expect to be equal to men in performance in every field is a very sad thing. And it seems very obvious that those women in part want to destroy the fields where they seem not to succeed, like some areas of analytical science. Something even more sad is that the idea of "penis envy" is never ever mentioned in the media, or even in psychology books, so those women seem to be far from healing/correcting their views.

And of course, there are men who do not want highly talented women in areas where men are more numerous, which is a non-sense attitude from those men, and it deepens those women's envy.
not rated yet Feb 15, 2019
"Guitar wielding female rock legends certainly exist. Think of Joan Jett, Melissa Etheridge, Tracy Chapman and the genre defying St. Vincent. Consider the American virtuosos Nita Strauss and Jennifer Batten, renowned freelance guitarists who have performed respectively with Alice Cooper and Michael Jackson. (Batten played lead guitar on Michael Jackson's Bad, Dangerous and HIStory world tours)."

-But of course they're not as good as the men on the list, as anyone can tell by LISTENING to them.

More sanctimonious sociopolitical bullshit from the antiscience ultralibs at 'the conversation'.

They dont belong on this site.
not rated yet Feb 15, 2019
Re the woman in the vid

-Show me a woman who can play something like this.

And malmsteen isnt even on the list.

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