by Jenny Bunn

The importance of representation in music is a phrase that is thrown around a lot, but one that rings true to the experiences of so many women out there. As a guitarist and bassist, I remember the rush of enthusiasm when I first discovered Orianthi and Jennifer Batten. I hadn’t even noticed that female guitarists were few and far between in the music that I was listening to, but finding a bunch of talented and inspirational female musicians was a life-changing moment for my teenage self and opened up a whole new world of bands and artists to listen to that I wasn’t being exposed to on mainstream radio channels. I hadn’t even heard of signature models when I bought my first guitars, but maybe seeing a woman’s name on an instrument I was trying out instore or knowing that it had been created by a successful female artist would have been a real selling point and one that – under the right circumstances – could really be capitalised on by guitar manufacturers in the future to connect more with 50% of their target market.

A study undertaken by instrument comparison database FindMyGuitar in 2022 showed that fewer than 6% of signature electric guitar models are from female or non-binary artists. That’s just 13 different guitar models in a market of well over 200 models currently in production.

Signature guitar models (or artist models as they are also known) are instruments released bearing a specific artist’s name and are often designed by or built to the spec preferences of the artist in question. They offer a way to get closer to the sound of the individual artist and are often released as a limited run, making them unique and in some cases very collectible.

With almost 100 years of modern electric guitar production, you just need to glance over the list of signature models both currently in and out of production to see that the ratio of female to male artists represented is embarrassingly low.

Of the 13 signature models highlighted, few details set the instruments themselves apart from their male counterparts, however a couple of useful modifications have been made. While not all of these guitars have had the Daisy Rock treatment of being pink washed and covered in glitter and hearts, Lari Basilio’s signature guitar which has a fretboard that gets flatter going up “which is the easiest for the size of my hands” and St. Vincent’s Music Man signature’s iconic body shape allows – as she puts it – “room for a breast or two”. Of the 13, only one is from a non-binary artist: Australian singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, music producer, audio engineer and all around legend Tash Sultana.

The signature models aren’t limited to just one genre of artists either and cover genres from R&B (H.E.R) to heavy metal (Nita Strauss, Nikki Stringfield of the Iron Maidens and Reba Meyers of Code Orange) to math rock (Yvette Young of Covet). This handful of signature artists also represent multiple ethnicities: H.E.R is Filipina American/African American, Yvette Young is of Chinese heritage and Lari Basilio is Brazilian.

In 2018 Fender reported that 50% of aspirational guitarists are female, which is a clear rebuttal to the argument that “most guitar players are male” and is refreshing to see in what has always traditionally been perceived as a ‘man’s instrument’. This statistic only reinforces the notion that less than 6% is a shameful representation of the demographic of people who are buying instruments in 2023.