“It’s a Guy Thing” – Lead Guitar


So… as a few of you might know, I’m a guitar player. My first style is Blues, but I’ve been getting very heavy into Progressive, Psychedelic, and Experimental guitar. I love alternative styles of playing, where the guitar is played in ways most people would not think about playing it. I’m working on a Psychedelic/Experimental Rock suite called Heven that will include what I call “coin solos”: guitar solos that I’ll use coins (specifically the penny, the nickel, the dime, and the quarter) to play.

I’ve been playing for over a decade, but due to reasons I honestly cannot explain, I’m not very good…

It’s embarrassing, really.  I’ve always had dreams of playing like Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, and Jimi Hendrix. Sadly, my leads skills are practically non-existent, and my rhythm skills are still rather basic. I can’t even finger-pick! I find it essentially impossible to sit down and just practice. The greatest guitarists in the world get that way because they manage to find hours a day to practice. It takes me five minutes to lose interest in the scales, and another ten to lose interest in playing.

It’s fucking annoying, because it’s not like I don’t want to do this. I do. But a lot of times I literally feel like I have no control over it. As much as I want to be a better guitarist… as much as I want to practice… something is literally holding me back, and I can’t figure out what or how to get past it. And it’s frustrating on levels you honestly can’t understand.

I went off-topic a bit (actually, I may write a blog post about this block I seem to have in the future), but I’m trying to point out that I’ve been an amateur part of the guitar world for over a decade, now. One thing I’ve noticed is the lack of women who are lead guitarists; that is, women who solo. And the other thing I notice is that the women who do solo are largely punk/metal guitarists. You never see Progressive/Psychedelic lead guitarists who are women, and one of the only women I know in the current Blues scene is Chantel McGregor… someone I am a big fan of.

This lack of women actually bothers me. Like magic and so many other things in life, lead guitar is “a guy thing”.

Why?

How many of you know the Buyer’s Guide put out by Guitar World every year? If you do, then you’ll know it’s biggest feature: each section of the magazine is introduced with a picture of a beautiful woman wearing very little and modeling with a piece of featured gear from the section; which Guitar World refers to as “Hot Girls and Gear”. Hot girls, mind you, not hot women… again with the fucking infantilizing.

Again… I myself have no problem with the fact that models are photographed with different gear for the magazine. As I said in the post on magic: I like pictures of beautiful women wearing little or nothing.

My problem is, again, this: Guitar World simply has no equivalent for women… there is no “Hot Boys and Gear”… and if there was, it’d probably be titled “Hot Guys and Gear” or “Hot Men and Gear”, because the men would not at all be infantilized like the women are being infantilized.

This is why, I think, music, especially guitar, and especially lead guitar, is seen as “a guy thing”… because no one makes an effort to actually include women. Again, lead guitar is pushed as “a guy thing”, and the only role women play, if they play one at all, is to add the sex appeal to the advertising,

But it gets worse.

Remember Chantel McGregor, whom I mentioned above? When she was 14 years old, this happened:

So, aged 12, I started playing and singing at local jam sessions, and two years later, the head of A&R from a major label sat in our lounge and told me “great voice, but girls don’t play guitar like that!” His advice, “change styles because boys would be intimidated”.

First, I am so, so glad that this didn’t deter her.

Second…

What the fuck?

Why? Why don’t “girls” play guitar like? Why would boys (or men) be intimidated by it? What’s so damn intimidating about a woman playing guitar like Chantel plays guitar?

Of course, you’re probably asking yourself “well how does she play guitar?”

Let me show you.

This is Chantel McGregor playing Led Zeppelin’s “Tea for One” at the Boom Boom Club on October 7, 2010.

Watch her fingers.

Be amazed.

Obviously, she’s an amazing guitarist, and she has a beautiful voice.

This is what that A&R head told her was “intimidating” to boys. This is what he meant when he said “girls don’t play like that”.

Another problem is that when we do find women who can play like this, people tend to be amazed that this is a woman playing like this, reinforcing the idea that women don’t play like this. I’ll never forget when I showed this very video of Chantel to a friend. His comment was this:

Holy shit! this is a girl! A girl can play like that! That’s so cool!

This comment, of course, belies two inherently misogynistic views: it infantilizes women (Chantel, a woman, is referred to as a “girl”), and it singles them out as an anomaly in lead guitar. I’m very much ashamed to admit that, at the time, I didn’t correct him, largely because I myself, unfortunately, held these same views. Sadly, that’s actually why I found Chantel so amazing at first; not because she was so good, but because she was a girl who was so good. Now I no longer care that she’s a woman, because that doesn’t make any difference to the fact that she’s an amazing guitarist; and that’s the point.

Another example is the band Heart. The legend is that Anne and Nancy Wilson heard Led Zeppelin and decided that they wanted to do that; and joined Heart. But who plays the lead guitar for Heart? If you said “Nancy”, then you’d be wrong… despite the fact that she actually can solo. No, it’s always been a man, since they started touring with Anne and Nancy as Heart in 1974.

Of course, Chantel is Blues, and Heart is Classic Rock. The current styles I’m obsessed with are Progressive Rock and Psychedelia. Good luck if you can find women guitarists here. I’ve found a good amount of women vocalists, but lead guitarists who are women seem to be in short supply. In fact, I always found it a tad odd that there is no all-woman group that pulls its inspiration from bands like Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, and takes to the darker, more experimental sides of Progressive Rock and Psychedelia. Do you know how happy I would be to find a group like that? It would make my life.

But they simply aren’t marketed, because “girls don’t play guitar like that!Of course they do, and there’s actually a good amount of great women lead guitarists out there. Along with Chantel McGregor, the Blues and Rock scene includes Joanne Shaw Taylor, Samantha Fish, Susan Tedeschi, Deborah Coleman, Ana Popovic, Rory Block, Allison Robertson, Shannon Curfman, Orianthi… and that’s just a sampling of about maybe 1%… so they are definitely out there. In the Psychedelia scene, the best I could find was Ava Mendoza, who takes her cues, it seems, from Jimi Hendrix. There’s also Experimental and Drone, in which I found Sarah Lipstate, also known by her stage name Noveller.

But can anyone imagine a woman lead guitarist who takes her cues from guitarists like Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Steven Wilson, and so on? I would love to find them.

Guitar is marketed as “a guy thing”. Magazines like Guitar World Buyer’s Guide only reinforce this; they formulate the buyer’s guide to cater strictly to straight men. Women are ignored entirely, except for sex appeal. Stores and companies do not even bother trying to sell to women. And it’s because of what that head of A&R said to Chantel, despite the fact that he was wrong; women can and do “play like that”.

Then, of course, there’s the guitars themselves. There’s a guitar company called Daisy Rock. Their tagline is “doing whatever it takes to help girls play guitar and enjoy music”. Take a look at the guitars they offer. Notice anything about them?

They’re very much what many would consider “girlie”. They’re sparkly, their main models are pink, and having seen them in Sam Ash and Guitar Center in the past, I can tell you that they are not at all built for soloing. These guitars are pop guitars, and their existence again reinforces stereotypes about women, how they play, and what they play. On the other hand, Gibson, PRS, Fender, Gretsch, and so on market to men; and only men… straight men.

My response? I’m all for Guitar World using beautiful models to sell instruments in the Buyer’s Guide… but why not create a version for women, using men to model the guitars, too? Don’t change anything else about it… keep both versions of the Buyer’s Guide exactly the same, except that one uses women models, and the other uses men models. Or, have men and women modeling different pieces of gear, so the magazine is made for both men and women.

All those guitar companies need to start marketing their normal guitar lines to women. I’d love to see a Gibson campaign made to advertise to women without focusing on their gender. Take a Blues or Rock guitarist who uses Gibson guitars, show them playing a Gibson guitar, and say something like “you can do that, too”. Let the fact that these are women go unshown except in the fact that they are women. Don’t mention it or anything.

And don’t make a Gibson especially for women, either. Just use Gibsons that already exist.

Paul Reed Smith, a popular brand in the Progressive Rock/Metal scene, largely thanks to Steven Wilson, could take that to market to women as well.

I’ve never seen a commercial on TV for a guitar brand, and, quite frankly, I’d rather keep it that way. However, these sites could feature artist interviews with lead guitarists who are women that don’t at all focus, even in part, on the fact that they are women. Interview them exactly like you’d interview… say… Jimmy Page. And they could feature artist video spots on their sites featuring women, without pointing out that fact.

Maybe Fender should work with Chantel McGregor to create a signature guitar. Maybe Gibson should do the same with Sarah Lipstate (specifically, an Epiphone or even Gibson double-neck SG [she currently uses the Epiphone one, along with a Fender Telecaster and Fender Jaguar]).

And let’s cut this “girls don’t play like that” bullshit. Anyone can “play like that”. Gender has fuck all to do with it. We need more women lead guitarists, in my humble opinion. All those women I mentioned… they are as much inspirations for me as guitarists like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Steven Wilson, Syd Barrett, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and so on. All that matters is how well they play; their gender isn’t important, and it shouldn’t be.

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About Nathan Hevenstone

I hate straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men. I also play guitar and sing, and I'm an atheist and anti-theist. What now?
This entry was posted in Activism, Bullying, Commercialism, Feminism, It's a Guy Thing, Misogyny and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “It’s a Guy Thing” – Lead Guitar

  1. K says:

    I didn’t see you give examples besides Chantel of women rocking out on guitar like that. I clicked on a random one on your list in the Trucks band and she was providing rhythm at best. Anyway, I was impressed with Chantel, as much as it did seem ‘strange’ to me.

    I’m not saying women can’t and don’t play like that. A quick Youtube search would show you otherwise. However, you don’t see women doing that NEARLY as much as men do. And when you do see women who are interested, and clearly trying to do well, they don’t do as well as men do. And when you do see very good guitarist women, they don’t usually produce as great music as the greatest male guitarists.

    Attribute this to “sexism” as much as you would like, but I attribute this to nature. I think being extremely good at producing the best music requires a few things, which are naturally more present in men. These are a combination of: high intelligence (highest IQs are usually present in males: not sexism, but facts), musical talent (whether that is due to high IQ or not, I am not sure), and a lot of practice/training (competitiveness is naturally much higher in men, look some studies up. Testosterone is one hell of a hormone).

    I know this will all be disregarded as “sexism”, but if you try to do what YOU want people to do, which is to be open-minded, you may see that all I’m saying is nature is what nature is. No one is better as a human being than anyone, whether you are a great guitar player or not. If you love guitar, practice, get better, and don’t let anyone stop you. But if you do find limitations (and we all do), don’t despair. Most people can find something they are naturally better than others at, so try not take something to heart too much. And don’t let your gender or what have you limit your beliefs about yourself. Chantel is a woman who plays with raw, deep emotion as I saw from that video. Some girl out there could one day be the next Jimmy Page. Is it likely… probably not. But you get my point hopefully.

  2. Lee says:

    Yeaaaah… when I tried to go to Guitar World to buy a bass the idiot salesmen told me that I’d like a “nice keyboard” better. Needless to say I found a store that could at least keep its sexist opinions to itself.

  3. Thetar says:

    Hi Nate, you might want to check out a great female guitarist, Orianthi Panagaris.

    BTW, did you end up getting that tattoo?

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