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Women guitarists are increasing in popularity on social media and changing the face of music

In the evolving world of music, one shift is challenging the once male-dominated field of guitarists. Social media has spotlighted a wave of female guitarists, showcasing their talent and passion for the instrument. 

Grace Bowers, a 17-year-old mostly self-taught guitarist, found an audience on Reddit during the pandemic. She stumbled upon a Guns N' Roses music video, and her admiration for Slash's iconic style sparked her musical journey.

"He's iconic: The Les Paul (guitar) and the top hat. I'd never seen anything before like that. I'd never seen live music before, so seeing that really opened up a whole new world for me," said Bowers.

Despite her initial struggles with learning the guitar, her perseverance turned her small online following into widespread recognition, earning Bowers spots on grand stages like the Newport Folk Festival and a national New Year's Eve broadcast on CBS. 

But Bowers said she still faces discrimination she says is due to her gender.

"I was sitting at my guitar and the sound guy comes up to me and tells me how to plug it in," Bowers said. "I just don't think it would have happened if I was a dude.  I know a lot of people in Nashville who have the same story as me, and it's because people underestimate them for being a girl."

The legacy of pioneering female guitarists like Joan Jett, Bonnie Raitt and Sister Rosetta Tharpe has paved the way for this new generation. Yet, as Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist and musician who studies guitar trends, points out, "It was a sexist industry."

"Musicians had to pass through the portholes of club owners who were both racist and sexist. The record companies treated women as a novelty," said Levitin.

But that landscape is changing, as evidenced by a 2018 Fender study showing women account for 50% of beginner and aspirational guitar players. This shift isn't about women wanting to emulate male guitar legends like Eric Clapton, but about establishing their identity in the music world, inspiring future generations to admire female musicians for their unique styles.

The narrative is further moved by young talents like Mollie Montgomery, a 16-year-old still mastering her craft after starting lessons two years ago. Her experience reflects a growing trend of young women and girls seeing themselves in the new generation of guitarists, such as Grammy winner Brittany Howard and H.E.R., who performed at the Super Bowl.

Claudia Terry, Montgomery's instructor, mostly teaches female students now, which she says is a stark contrast to her own early experiences.

"Having that bond with my female students that I have, I wish that I had had that because there is a bit of a stigma against female guitar players and not believing that they want to be guitar players to really just be guitar players," said Terry. 

Meanwhile, Bowers envisions a collaborative future in the music industry. 

"The type of band I want to put together is more like Sly and the Family Stone," she said. "There are a lot of artists out there where it's focused on one person. I want a band."

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