The Influence of Pioneering Women in Country Guitar

Photo of author

When people think of country guitar, they may initially envision a male artist. However, the truth is that women have been making significant contributions to country guitar since the beginning of the genre. Despite facing discrimination and a lack of recognition, countless trailblazing women have transformed country guitar, paving the way for future generations of female artists. In this article, we will examine the lives and legacies of some of the most influential women in country guitar history. From Mother Maybelle Carter’s groundbreaking Carter Scratch to Bonnie Raitt’s unique blend of blues and rock, these women have left an indelible mark on country music and beyond. Let’s dive in and celebrate the pioneering women who have transformed country guitar.

Mother Maybelle Carter: The First Lady of Country Guitar

Mother Maybelle Carter: The First Lady Of Country Guitar
When one thinks of the pioneers of country guitar, the name Mother Maybelle Carter immediately comes to mind. This legendary guitarist and singer was a trailblazer in a male-dominated industry, and her innovative playing style set the standard for generations to come. Her impact on country and beyond is immeasurable, and her contributions to music have earned her the title of “The First Lady of Country Guitar.” Let’s take a closer look at the life and legacy of this remarkable woman. (If you want to discover more about other untold country guitar heroines, check out /untold-country-guitar-heroines/.)

The Carter Scratch

The Carter Scratch is a distinctive guitar picking style made famous by Mother Maybelle Carter, a founding member of the Carter Family country music group. The technique involves using the thumb to play a steady bass line while the index finger plays melody notes on higher strings. This produces a full and rhythmic sound that became a hallmark of the Carter Family’s recordings and live performances.

Many guitarists have imitated the Carter Scratch over the years, but few have replicated it with the same level of skill and nuance as Maybelle Carter. Her influence can be heard in generations of country guitar players who have followed in her footsteps.

Advantages of the Carter Scratch Disadvantages of the Carter Scratch
-Produces a full and rhythmic sound -Requires a certain level of finger dexterity and coordination
-Allows for the creation of complex arrangements -May not work as well for faster tempos
-Provides a strong foundation for vocal harmonies and other instruments -Can be challenging to learn for beginners

Despite its challenges, the Carter Scratch has been embraced by many female guitarists looking to carve out their own space in country music. The technique has been adapted and expanded upon by artists like June Carter Cash and Pam Tillis, who have used it as a starting point for their own unique styles of playing.

As we celebrate the legacy of pioneering women in country guitar, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the Carter Scratch. This simple yet powerful technique has helped shape the sound of country music for decades, and will continue to inspire future generations of guitarists.

To learn more about other trailblazing women in country guitar music who have followed in the footsteps of Mother Maybelle Carter, June Carter Cash, and Pam Tillis, check out our in-depth article.

Impact on Country and Beyond

Mother Maybelle Carter’s impact on country guitar and beyond cannot be overstated. The innovative “Carter Scratch” technique she pioneered became a hallmark of country guitar playing and was widely emulated by her peers and future generations of guitarists. Her use of fingerpicking, rather than strumming, allowed for greater nuance and complexity in her playing, paving the way for others to experiment with new techniques and styles.

Beyond her instrumental skill, Carter’s influence extended to her songwriting and performing. Along with the other members of The Carter Family, she helped popularize Appalachian folk music and country music as a genre, inspiring countless musicians and shaping the direction of American music for decades to come. Her recognition as “The First Lady of Country Guitar” is a testament to her enduring legacy.

Carter’s impact on women in country guitar cannot be understated. Her success as a soloist and a member of a prominent family band paved the way for future generations to forge their own paths. She broke down barriers and showed that women could be successful as instrumentalists and performers in a male-dominated industry.

Today, women who play country guitar owe a debt of gratitude to pioneers like Carter who blazed a trail for them to follow. Her legacy lives on in the work of numerous country guitar heroines, who continue to redefine what it means to be a country guitarist in the 21st century.

For more information on the evolution of the acoustic women country guitar players, read our related article on Acoustic Country Women Guitar Evolution.

June Carter Cash: The Family Tradition Continues

June Carter Cash: The Family Tradition Continues
As the daughter of the legendary Carter Family, June Carter Cash was no stranger to country music. However, she didn’t step into a solo role until later in life, and when she did, she proved to be a force to be reckoned with. From backup singer to soloist, June continued the family tradition of pioneering women in country guitar. Her unique style, which incorporated elements of traditional country, gospel, and folk music, marked her as one of the most influential women guitarists in the genre. Let’s take a closer look at the life and legacy of June Carter Cash and explore how she helped to break gender barriers in country guitar. If you’re interested in learning about other female country guitar players, check out these country guitar heroines.

From Backup to Soloist

June Carter Cash began her music career as a backup singer and guitarist for her illustrious family, The Carter Family. As she honed her skills on the guitar and gained confidence as a performer, she eventually stepped into the spotlight as a solo artist. The evolution from backup to soloist is a challenging journey for any musician, but June’s dedication and talent propelled her to success.

June’s signature style on the guitar was a finger-picking technique that was influenced by her mother, Maybelle Carter. This technique involved using the thumb to play the bass notes and the index and middle fingers to play the melody. It became known as the “Carter Scratch,” and it became a defining element of June’s guitar playing. As she integrated this technique into her solo performances, she brought a unique sound to country music that was both traditional and innovative.

June’s ability to blend her vocal and instrumental talents made her a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. She carved out a space for herself as a multi-talented musician, and her contributions to country music were invaluable. Her legacy lives on today, as female guitarists continue to be inspired by her trailblazing career.

If you want to learn more about women who have redefined country guitar, check out women redefining country guitar.

A True Renaissance Woman

June Carter Cash was not only a gifted singer and songwriter, but also a talented **multi-instrumentalist**. In addition to her skills on the guitar, she was proficient on several other instruments, including the autoharp, banjo, and **harpsichord**.

As a **member of the Carter Family** and a solo artist, June was instrumental in shaping the sound of country music. Her contributions to the genre go far beyond her skills as a guitarist; she was a true renaissance woman.

June’s talents extended beyond music as well. She was an **actress, author, and humanitarian**. June wrote several books, including a memoir about her family’s musical legacy, and she also appeared in several films and television shows.

Despite her many accomplishments, June remained humble and focused on her family. She was a devoted wife to Johnny Cash and a loving mother to their son, John Carter Cash. June passed away in 2003, but her legacy as one of country music’s most influential female artists lives on.

June Carter Cash was truly a **remarkable woman**, blazing new trails for female musicians in country music and beyond. Her talents as a guitarist, musician, and all-around entertainer helped pave the way for the many talented women who have followed in her footsteps.

Discover Top 3 Guitar Bestsellers

No products found.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock and Roll

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother Of Rock And Roll
When we hear the term “Rock and Roll,” many names come to mind, but not everyone knows the name of the originator who created the very foundations of the genre. While the term is often associated with male musicians, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, also known as the “Godmother of Rock and Roll,” has a legacy that has been influential to many artists in multiple genres. She was the first gospel artist to fuse her music with a secular sound, inspiring others to break down boundaries in music. Let’s dive into the life of this fascinating pioneer, who paved the way for future country guitar heroines.

Blazing Guitar and Vocals

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a gifted musician, composer, and singer, and many consider her the “Godmother of Rock and Roll.” Her stunning skills on both the guitar and vocals were unparalleled during her time, and she was a sensation to behold on stage.

Tharpe’s guitar picking was nothing short of remarkable. She had a unique style, blending together country, gospel, and blues into a seamless and electrifying sound. Tharpe often played a Gibson SG electric guitar, a rarity among guitarists of her time, especially women.

Tharpe’s vocals were equally impressive. She had a commanding voice, filled with power and emotion that could convey both the joy and the pain of her lyrics. Tharpe was a pioneer in her use of distortion and reverb, as well as her innovative use of the guitar as a percussive instrument, slapping and tapping it for added effect.

Despite her incredible talent, Tharpe experienced significant challenges as a female musician and gospel artist in the male-dominated music industry of the mid-20th century. However, she continued to persevere and break down barriers, setting a precedent for future generations of female artists.

Today, Tharpe’s legacy continues to inspire guitarists and music lovers alike. Her influence can still be heard in the music of countless artists who incorporate country, gospel, and blues into their sounds. Tharpe’s impact on breaking gender barriers in country guitar and her status as one of the country guitar heroines remain an enduring reminder of the power of music to overcome adversity and inspire change.

For more information on other pioneering women who transformed country guitar, check out our women guitarists in country music article.

Her Legacy and Influence

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a pioneer not only in the realm of gospel music but also in rock and roll, and her legacy and influence continue to be felt to this day. Tharpe was known for her powerful vocals and virtuosic guitar playing, which blended elements of blues, gospel, and rock. Her electrified guitar sound would become a cornerstone of the rock and roll genre.

Tharpe broke gender and racial barriers during a time when few women, let alone Black women, were given the opportunity to perform and record. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, recognizing her impact as a performer and guitar player.

Tharpe’s influence can be seen in the countless female guitar players who have followed in her footsteps. She paved the way for other women to pick up the guitar and break down gender barriers in country and beyond. Her unique approach to playing and performing inspired a generation of female country guitar players and beyond.

Some notable female guitar players who have been influenced by Sister Rosetta Tharpe include:

  • Bonnie Raitt, who has cited Tharpe as a major influence on her slide guitar playing.
  • Mary Ford, who was inspired by Tharpe’s guitar playing and became a successful guitar player and singer in her own right.
  • Carlene Carter, who was the daughter of June Carter Cash and originally came to prominence as a member of her mother’s backing band. She has credited Tharpe as a major influence on her playing and songwriting.
  • Tina Weymouth, who played bass in the influential new wave band Talking Heads and was inspired by Tharpe’s guitar playing and showmanship.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s impact on country guitar and music as a whole cannot be overstated. She was a true pioneer and her legacy continues to inspire generations of female guitar players to break down barriers and follow their dreams.

Read more about other country guitar heroines here.

Pam Tillis: Carving Out a Space for Women in Country Guitar

Pam Tillis: Carving Out A Space For Women In Country Guitar
For a long time in the country music industry, the guitar was viewed as a “man’s instrument”. However, some pioneering women like Pam Tillis refused to let this stereotype hold them back. As the daughter of country music legend Mel Tillis, Pam grew up surrounded by country music royalty. But it wasn’t until her own career took off that she truly made a name for herself as a country guitarist, breaking through gender barriers and inspiring future generations of female guitar players. Let’s delve deeper into her story and see how she carved out a space for women in country guitar.

The Daughter of a Legend

The Daughter of a Legend

Pam Tillis is the daughter of Mel Tillis, one of country music’s biggest names. Pam grew up around music and began singing backup for her father at the age of 8. She learned to play the guitar from her father, but it wasn’t until she was in her twenties that she started to take it seriously.

In the late 1980s, Pam Tillis began her own career as a singer and songwriter, but she had a hard time breaking out of her father’s shadow. That all changed in 1991 when she released her breakthrough album “Put Yourself in My Place.” The album included four top 10 hits, including the #1 single “Maybe It Was Memphis.”

Pam Tillis also made her mark as a guitarist. She didn’t play the flashy solos that were often associated with male guitarists, but her understated style fit perfectly with her music. Tillis was one of a growing number of female guitarists who were breaking down gender barriers in country music.

Today, Pam Tillis remains an influential figure in country music. She has inspired a new generation of female guitarists who are making their mark in the industry. And while there is still work to be done in terms of achieving gender equality in country music, women like Pam Tillis are paving the way for future generations.

Album Release Year Top 10 Hits
Put Yourself in My Place 1991 “Maybe It Was Memphis” (#1), “Don’t Tell Me What to Do” (#5), “One of Those Things” (#6), “Blue Rose Is” (#5)
Sweetheart’s Dance 1994 “Spilled Perfume” (#5), “When You Walk in the Room” (#2), “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)” (#1)
All of This Love 1995 “Deep Down” (#6), “The River and the Highway” (#8)

In a genre dominated by men, Pam Tillis proved that women could not only sing but also play guitar with the best of them. Her legacy is still felt today, and she will always be remembered as one of the pioneers who helped pave the way for more women to take up the guitar in country music.

Breaking Barriers and Inspiring Others

Pam Tillis is one of the most influential country guitarists in history, and she has left a tremendous impact on the music world. She was not only one of the first female guitarists to achieve major success in the male-dominated country music industry but also a pioneer in breaking barriers and inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.

Pam Tillis has been often cited as one of the few trailblazing female country guitar players who maintained a successful solo career. She faced many challenges throughout her career, including criticism and skepticism from music executives who didn’t think a woman could lead a successful tour.

However, Pam broke through these barriers and proved her haters wrong with chart-topping singles like “Maybe It Was Memphis” and “Shake the Sugar Tree”. She also advocated for other female artists in the industry, helping to secure airplay and jobs for up-and-coming musicians.

Pam Tillis’ achievements have inspired countless other female guitarists to pursue their dreams in music. She has shown that with talent, hard work, and perseverance anyone can shatter gender boundaries and succeed in what they love.

Today, there are many acoustic female country guitar players who have followed in Pam’s footsteps, pushing the genre’s boundaries even further. From Kacey Musgraves’ blended neo-traditionalist style to Margo Price’s hard-edged storytelling, these musicians are helping to usher in a new era of country music that prioritizes authenticity and creativity.

As we celebrate Pam Tillis’ legacy and contribution to the country music world, let us also remember the ongoing work of women in the industry. By recognizing and elevating these talented artists, we can continue to build a more inclusive and diverse music community.

Bonnie Raitt: Blues, Rock, and Beyond

Bonnie Raitt: Blues, Rock, And Beyond
Throughout the history of country guitar, few artists have been able to capture the hearts and minds of listeners quite like Bonnie Raitt. Known for her soulful singing and virtuosic slide guitar playing, Raitt has been a force in music for over five decades, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations of female guitarists. In this segment, we will explore Raitt’s impact on the country music scene and beyond, as well as her innovative use of the slide guitar. We’ll also take a look at how Raitt’s music has influenced a new generation of acoustic female country guitar players.

A New Generation of Country Guitarists

As country music evolved over the years, so did the role of the guitar. In recent years, a new generation of country guitarists has emerged, incorporating diverse sounds and styles into the genre while paying homage to the pioneers who came before them.

Maren Morris is one of the breakout stars of this new wave of country musicians. While Morris is primarily known for her powerful vocals, she is also a skilled guitarist who has brought a fresh perspective to the genre. Her blend of traditional country elements with pop and rock influences has earned her critical acclaim and a devoted fanbase.

Another guitarist who is making waves in the country music scene is Lindsay Ell. Ell is a true virtuoso on the guitar, with a style that blends elements of blues, rock, and country. She has been praised for her technical skill and ability to convey emotion through her playing.

Kacey Musgraves is another artist who has been pushing the boundaries of country music with her unique sound and style. While Musgraves’ music incorporates elements of traditional country, she has also been known to experiment with different musical genres, from psychedelic pop to electronic music. Her guitar playing is an integral part of her sound, adding texture and depth to her songs.

Other female country guitarists who are making their mark in the industry include Ingrid Andress, Tenille Townes, and Ashley McBryde. These women are all talented guitarists in their own right, with unique styles and perspectives that bring something new to the genre.

The future of country guitar looks bright, with more and more female artists taking up the instrument and bringing their own voices to the genre. Whether they are drawing from the past or embracing new sounds and influences, these musicians are carrying on the legacy of the pioneering women who came before them.

To learn more about female country guitar players, check out our article on acoustic female country guitar players.

Tapping into the Power of the Slide Guitar

When it comes to discussing the guitar playing of Bonnie Raitt, it’s impossible not to mention her incredible slide guitar skills. Raitt is known for her ability to create soulful and bluesy sounds using a slide, a technique that involves sliding a metal or glass cylinder called a slide along the strings of the guitar.

The power of the slide guitar lies in its ability to create a unique sound that cannot be replicated by any other technique. By gliding the slide along the strings, players can manipulate the pitch and timbre of the notes, creating a distinctively haunting and soulful sound.

To fully tap into the potential of the slide guitar, it takes a musician with a fierce dedication to their craft, someone like Bonnie Raitt. Her use of the slide guitar has earned her countless accolades and a place of honor among some of the greatest guitar players of all time.

But Raitt’s influence doesn’t stop with just her slide guitar. She has also been an advocate for social justice and equality, using her music as a platform for speaking out on issues that are important to her.

Bonnie Raitt’s use of the slide guitar has helped to expand the possibilities of what can be done with the instrument, inspiring a new generation of guitarists to explore its unique sound. Her legacy has been long-lasting, and her influence can be heard in the music of many modern guitar players who have been inspired by her talents. The slide guitar will forever be a key part of Raitt’s unique style, and her use of it continues to be an important part of her legacy as a pioneering woman in the world of country guitar.

Some other notable women who have incorporated slide guitar into their playing include Ellen McIlwaine, Cindy Cashdollar, and Rory Block. Each of these women has used the slide guitar in their own unique way, bringing their own personal touch to this timeless guitar technique.

The Future of Country Guitar: Continuing the Legacy of Trailblazing Women

As we look ahead to the future of country guitar, one thing is certain: women will continue to play a vital role in shaping the genre. From the pioneering efforts of Mother Maybelle Carter to the trailblazing sounds of Pam Tillis and Bonnie Raitt, women have consistently pushed the boundaries and expanded the possibilities of what country guitar can be. And as we enter a new era of country music, the contributions of women are more important than ever before. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the current state of women in country guitar, and explore the exciting directions in which the genre is heading.

Women in Country Music Today

When it comes to country music today, women are making a significant impact and carving out their own space in the genre. They are challenging traditional gender roles and defying stereotypes, both lyrically and musically. Here are some of the notable women in country music today:

Artist Achievements
Maren Morris Morris won several awards, including Best New Artist at the 2016 CMA Awards, and has been praised for incorporating a wide range of musical influences into her work.
Kacey Musgraves Musgraves has won several Grammys, including Album of the Year in 2019 for “Golden Hour.” She is known for her honest and poetic lyrics about rural life and societal expectations.
Ashley McBryde McBryde has been nominated for several awards and has been praised for her gritty and raw sound. She sings about small-town life, heartbreak, and overcoming adversity.
Ingrid Andress Andress has received critical acclaim for her debut album, “Lady Like,” which explores themes of empowerment, heartbreak, and vulnerability. She is known for her unique blend of pop and country.

These women, along with many others, are redefining what it means to be a country artist in the 21st century. They are incorporating diverse influences, challenging gender norms, and bringing new perspectives to the genre. In doing so, they are continuing the legacy of trailblazing women who transformed country guitar and paved the way for future generations.

Incorporating Diverse Influences and Sounds

As more and more women enter the world of country guitar, they bring with them a wide range of diverse influences and sounds. Many draw from their experiences outside of the country genre to create a unique and interesting blend of styles.

Artist | Influences and Sounds

Kaki King | King’s style incorporates a blend of rock, jazz, and folk influences, creating a unique sound that sets her apart from traditional country guitarists.

Lindsay Ell | Ell’s love for pop and rock music has enabled her to bring a fresh perspective to country guitar, allowing her to incorporate elements like distortion and heavy riffing to her playing.

Molly Tuttle | Tuttle has a background in bluegrass music, and her fingerstyle playing incorporates elements of that genre into her country guitar sound, creating a unique blend of old and new.

Brittany Howard | Howard’s love of soul and funk music gives her country guitar playing a distinct and lively sound, with plenty of groove and soul.

Magda Piskorczyk | As a blues guitarist from Poland, Piskorczyk incorporates her love for traditional American blues music into her country guitar playing, adding a unique and unexpected flair.

These women and many others like them are continuing the legacy of pioneering women who transformed country guitar, while paving the way for a more diverse, innovative, and exciting future for the genre. By incorporating their unique influences and sounds, they are creating music that is both fresh and deeply rooted in tradition.


After exploring the pioneering women who transformed country guitar, it’s clear that the impact of these trailblazers goes far beyond their guitar playing skills. Mother Maybelle Carter’s unique sound and technique, including the famous Carter Scratch, set the bar for generations to come. June Carter Cash continued her family’s tradition while making her own mark as a soloist, singer, and songwriter. Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s influence on rock and roll cannot be denied, as she combined blazing guitar skills and powerful vocals to become the Godmother of the genre. Pam Tillis broke down barriers for women in country guitar, while Bonnie Raitt’s incorporation of blues and rock influenced a new generation of country guitarists.

The legacy of these women continues to inspire and influence female guitarists in country music today. They have proven that women have a place in the typically male-dominated world of guitar playing and have carved out a space for themselves in the genre. The future of country guitar is bright, with a new generation of women incorporating diverse influences and sounds into their playing.

As we reflect on the groundbreaking achievements of these women and look to the future, it is clear that their impact on country guitar will continue to be felt for generations to come. The pioneering spirit of Mother Maybelle Carter, June Carter Cash, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Pam Tillis, Bonnie Raitt, and countless others will continue to inspire and empower women in the genre, as they continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in country guitar.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who were some of the first women to play country guitar?

One of the earliest pioneers was Mother Maybelle Carter, followed by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who later had a strong influence on rock and roll.

What is the Carter Scratch?

The Carter Scratch is a distinctive picking technique named after Mother Maybelle Carter. It involves picking alternating bass notes while simultaneously strumming melody notes on the treble strings with the index finger.

How did June Carter Cash contribute to country guitar?

June Carter Cash continued the Carter family legacy and helped popularize the unique picking style of the Carter Scratch. She also played guitar on many of her own recordings and live performances.

What other musical talents did June Carter Cash possess?

June Carter Cash was not only a talented guitarist and singer, but also a songwriter, author, and actress.

Who was Bonnie Raitt influenced by?

Bonnie Raitt was heavily influenced by blues artists such as Mississippi Fred McDowell and Muddy Waters, as well as rock guitarists like Jimi Hendrix.

What is Bonnie Raitt known for?

Bonnie Raitt is known for her soulful voice and masterful slide guitar playing, as well as her advocacy for social and environmental causes.

How did Pam Tillis break barriers in country music?

Pam Tillis, daughter of country legend Mel Tillis, broke barriers by becoming one of the few women in country to achieve commercial success as both a singer and guitarist. She also wrote many of her own hit songs.

What was Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s impact on rock and roll?

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is considered the “godmother of rock and roll” for her pioneering use of distortion and flashy guitar solos, as well as her crossover appeal to both black and white audiences in the early 20th century.

How have women continued to make their mark in country guitar?

Today, women in country music are pushing boundaries and incorporating diverse influences and sounds, from blues to pop to punk rock.

What can we learn from the legacy of pioneering women in country guitar?

These trailblazers not only paved the way for future generations of women in country, but also contributed to the evolution of guitar playing and the broader landscape of American music.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

Leave a Comment