Electric Ladyland

Joan Jett will be 49 this year, but her sinewy arms still light into her beat-up Gibson Melody Maker as if it were 1982, when she first broke onto the scene with her braying hit “I Love Rock N’ Roll.” Even then Jett had more than just smash records on her mind. “I really wanted to make it OK for girls to play,” she says.

Fellow ’80s hitmakers Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s and Nancy Wilson of Heart fought for the same leg room for their all-female bands. Of her early gigs with the Go-Go’s, Wiedlin says, “It was horrible. Everyone hated us because we were chicks, and so we would just get spit at and bottles thrown at us every night.”

Nancy Wilson

Though sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson would go on to become pop culture icons, audiences didn't immediately warm to them either. Nancy, who formed Heart in late-'70s Seattle in a riot of spandex pants and thrashing feathered hair, has said, “We were Beatles fans who wanted to be the Beatles, not be their girlfriends.”

Today, the music of Jett, Wiedlin, and Wilson, all of whom honed their rock riffs on separate Gibson models, continues to empower some of today’s most brilliant female guitarists to pick up a Gibson electric.


Neko Case

Neko Case has proven that gorgeous, mid-tempo songs don’t always have to be about the acquiring and relinquishing of lovers, as is the case with most of her female contemporaries.Neko Case Pairing keening gospel harmonies with a perverse picture of country life, Case’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood was easily one of 2006’s finest releases. But Case shirks her association with the alt-country genre, saying, “The most apt description? A writer once called it country-noir, which relates to country but is also cinematic at the same time.” Though Case’s voice has distinguished both her solo career and her work with the New Pornographers, she’s also well-known for her atypical choice of guitar—a vintage, P-90-equipped Gibson SG tenor guitar, which she favors because of her “tiny hands.”


Annie Clark

To think two summers ago multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark had to hock her beloved Epiphone Sheraton II to afford rent for her New York City apartment. Annie ClarkDisappointed with her sputtering music career, she returned to her Dallas, Texas hometown, where she incidentally became 1/25 of the choral rock group Polyphonic Spree, and later a tour mate of the inimitable Sufjan Stevens. Clark’s solo debut, Marry Me, is dropping just this month, but already her alabaster face has become familiar in the pages of major music magazines. With skittering leads on her Gibson SG and a fanciful voice that’s testament to her weakness for the sultry theatrics of blues, jazz, and cabaret, Clark’s shaped her intoxicating solo act, known simply as St. Vincent.


Nina Diaz

Nina Diaz is far more expressive than her band’s name would imply. As guitarist, songwriter, and lead singer of Austin, Texas’ Nina Diaz Girl in a Coma, Diaz seems scarcely able to restrain her divine voice and high-speed guitarwork on a Valley Arts Brent Mason Signature. In 2006, Nina, older sister Phanie Diaz, and friend Jenn Alva signed with Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records label to record their excellent debut Both Before I’m Gone. Of her pet project, Jett has said, “Their music is really interesting, intense, catchy rock and roll. They were different, melodic. I’m a melody freak. I like guitar hooks and vocal hooks. I like to champion girls when I can.”


P.J. Harvey

Polly Jean Harvey has spent nearly 20 years blinking her bedroom eyes against a spotlight trained on her and her ubiquitous Gibson Firebird VII, on which Harvey’s cranked out a heap of scorching rock songs. P.J. Harvey The iconoclastic English guitarist, who’s all set to release her latest White Chalk on September 24, perhaps best sums up the patent futility of defining a modern musician by gender. “I certainly don’t think in terms of gender when I’m writing songs, and I never had any problems as the result of being female that I couldn’t get over,” Harvey says. “Maybe I’m not thankful for the things that have gone before me, but I don’t see that there’s any need to be aware of being a woman in this business. It just seems a waste of time.”


Juliana Hatfield

With a figure as nubile as her voice, Juliana Hatfield debuted her apple-pie indie pop during the flannel shoegaze movement of the ’90s. Hatfield’s songs were interesting enough to stick. In fact, her recurrent collaborations with The Lemonheads’ Evan Dando included her in what was hitherto an all-boys rock and roll club. Now 40 years old, Hatfield has released Made in China, featuring messy, chunky riffs on her SG and freewheelin’ lyrics about sex, drugs, and sin—her most explicit to date. Fifteen years into her music career, Juliana says she’s happy she skirted the glare of full-on superstardom. “I’ve been living my own version of success since the early ’90s when I first got signed,” she says. “When I did have a little bit of commercial success, it really didn’t suit my temperament at all. I’m a terrible public person. I’m happier where I am now.”


Allison Robertson

Allison Robertson

With eyebrow-skimming bangs, ankle boots, and a chugging Les Paul Standard, Allison Robertson of the Donnas has singlehandedly restored the glitter and gumption of ’80s rock. And this time it’s a woman’s game. Of her full-throttle playing style, Robertson has said, “It’s the kind of stuff that’s been absent from radio and MTV for so long. I’m hoping we can help bring it back again.” After six major-label albums, the four high school friends from Paolo Alto, California formed their own label and are now prepping their first independent release, due this September.

 

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So You Wanna Play Guitar?

Five Hot Tips for Girls Who Want to RAWK!

by Gina Volpe

Blonde and ballsy, Gina Volpe is a force to be reckoned with. As reigning lead guitarist for New York power trio Bantam and the driving force behind seminal punk rock band Lunachicks, Gina’s learned a thing or two about holding her own as a female rocker. After 20 years in the business, Gina stands tall on stage with her Gibson SG, and it’s got nothing to do with her platform boots. Here, she lets us in on her top tips and tricks:

Gina Volpe

1. Learn to play lead! Power chords are cool, but they get boring after a couple of verses. Mix it up while showing off your chops. Besides, there are still a few misguided dudes out there who think you can’t shred.

2. Louder, LoudER, LOUDER! Turn it up! Don’t be afraid to blow up some eardrums. Nothing’s hotter than a blast of mean distortion and a pinch of nasty feedback thrown into the mix.

3. Move to the music. Let go of your inhibitions and let the music take over. Make faces, jump, kick, spit, get crazy. Your fans came to see a show, and you’re gonna give it to them. If you’re having fun, they will too.

4. Watch and learn. Sneak out of the house and go see some shows and/or go hang out with other guitar players. Watching other people play is inspiring as well as helpful. You’ll be able to get some new ideas about what works best for you in terms of your playing, your sound, and your style.

5. Know your stuff! Take yourself seriously as a musician and know your instrument. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t get lazy just playing what you already know. Challenge yourself and learn some new tricks. Then get your butt onstage and show ’em off!

Rock on!


Featured Guitars:

Joan Jett’s Guitar

Gibson Melody Maker

Gibson Melody Maker
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Nancy Wilson’s Guitar

Epiphone Les Paul Ultra

Epiphone Les Paul Ultra
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Jane Wiedlin’s, Annie Clark’s, and Juliana Hatfield’s Guitar

Gibson SG Standard

 

Gibson SG Standard
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Nina Diaz’ Guitar

Valley Arts Brent Mason Signature

Valley Arts Brent Mason Signature
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P.J. Harvey’s Guitar

Gibson Firebird VII

Gibson Firebird VII
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Allison Robertson’s Guitar

Gibson Les Paul Standard

Gibson Les Paul Standard
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