The music industry has always had female singers, but not many have stepped into the role of a bass player.
Nowadays, that trend has changed, and there are many talented bassists to evaluate to determine the greatest female bass players of all time.
We have compiled an impressive list of female bassists who will astound you with their technique, musicianship, and impact on the music business.
Some names you’ll recognize, and others you’ll connect to a band or an artist, while our number one spot sets the bar so high for women and men, too!
Table of Contents
The 10 Best Female Bass Players of All Time
For this list, we chose female bassists who have led rock bands or worked with some of the world’s greatest musicians and record producers.
Collectively, they have paved the way for those who play bass, so join us as we discuss the talent and careers of these bass-playing leading ladies.
Here’s our list of the 10 best female bass players of all time:
10. Gail Ann Dorsey
If you’re a fan of one of the best musicians of all time, David Bowie, then you’ve probably seen Gail playing bass.
She has also toured, written songs with Tears for Fears and the Indigo Girls, and has been a session musician. Currently, Gail is the bassist for Lenny Kravitz and also provides backing vocals.
Regarding instruments, Gail uses a Music Man Stingray and Fender basses and endorses LaBella strings. She draws from her musical influences of pop, rock, and country to create deep grooves and gets her tone playing with her fingers and a pick.
Gail Ann Dorsey has three solo albums, is versatile on her instrument, and provides powerful vocals, which is why she will continue to amaze audiences as a premier bassist.
9. Suzi Quatro
Suzi Quatro started her musical journey in the 60s with her sister in an all-girl band, The Pleasure Seekers.
After years of successful tours and some singles hitting the charts, Suzi was offered a record deal in 1971 and headed to England to begin her solo career.
What sets Suzi apart is that she played the bass guitar, which was rare for women, and fronted an all-male band.
When she performed, Quatro was full of energy, charisma, and grit, often wearing one-piece outfits made of leather. Her first hit, “Can the Can,” topped the charts in the UK and paved the way for later female rockers like Chrissie Hynde and Blondie.
While she was a big star in Europe, she rarely had chart success in the United States until she appeared on the sitcom “Happy Days.” Suzi portrayed herself on the show with the stage name Leather Tuscadero and worked with actors Ron Howard and Henry Winkler.
Suzi Quatro plays Gibson semi-hollow basses and various Fenders and plays the strings with her fingers, not a pick.
This female rocker continues to tour, host radio shows, write poetry, and will continue to amaze fans as one of rock’s best female bassists.
8. Kim Deal
When Kim Deal married in the 80s, she and her husband moved from Dayton to Boston. Then, on a whim, she answered an ad in the newspaper looking for a bass player, and her serendipitous reply landed her the gig for the Pixies, pioneers of the alternative rock music scene.
The Pixies are champions for what makes music authentic by mixing grunge with punk and other music forms to create their unique sound.
As most musicians know, “space is the place,” and Kim Deal executes this mantra perfectly in “Where is My Mind?”. Instead of mimicking the wild vocal antics of Black Francis or the iconic guitar riffs of Joey Santiago, she plays simple bass lines.
Her rock-steady eighth notes never waver or have musical flourishes, all of which add to the magic of this classic indie hit.
Kim Deal played on and off for the Pixies but enjoyed success as the leader and guitarist for The Breeders. Kim Deal plays a Fender Precision and a Music Man StingRay, and she uses a pick to get her legendary alternative bass sound.
It’s for all these reasons that Kim Deal is one of the world’s most extraordinary female musicians and female bassists.
7. Rhonda Smith
Canadian Rhonda Smith is not only one of the world’s most accomplished female bass guitarists but is an incredible songwriter, singer, and solo artist.
Her journey began when she studied Jazz Performance at McGill University in Montreal and began moving her way up in the male-dominated world of pop, rock, and jazz.
A happenstance meeting with Sheila E. in Germany would rocket Rhonda’s bass career into the stratosphere.
Sheila mentioned that Prince, who wrote some of the best songs of all time, was looking for a bassist, so Rhonda auditioned and was hired on the spot.
Rhonda has also performed with Little Richard, Chaka Khan, and Lee Ritenour, making her one of the most sought-after female bassists in the music industry.
With a voice that is sultry and soulful, Rhonda Smith is a recording artist with several solo albums that showcase her musicianship and superb bass skills.
6. Tina Weymouth
Martina Weymouth, better known as Tina, began teaching herself guitar when she was 14, but her move to New England to attend the Rhodes Island School of design would reshape her life personally and musically.
While in school in the 70s, she met classmates Chris Frantz and David Byrne, and the trio shared similar musical interests. They formed a band called the Artistics and moved to New York, and somewhere along the way, Chris and Tina got married.
The band could not find a suitable bassist in New York, so Byrne suggested that Tina try. She not only landed the position but went on to become one of the most influential bassists in her genre.
The Artistics changed their name to the Talking Heads, landed a recording contract in 1977, and released a string of hits until their breakup in 1999.
The Talking Heads topped the charts with hits in the 80s and would be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Tina’s bass playing set the tone and groove of new wave music with her minimalist art-punk bass lines and funky grooves.
She has used a Fender Mustang, Hofner “Beatle bass,” and Gibson basses and played the strings with her thumb and index finger. Later, she adopted the alternating finger approach and continues to pave the way for other female bass players.
5. Tal Wilkenfeld
Tal Wilkenfeld, Australia’s “Wonder from Down Under,” not only has incredible jazz improvisational skills but can rock and groove with the best of them.
Her first musical break came when southern rockers, The Allman Brothers, invited Tal to perform on stage, but her big break came playing for Jeff Beck.
Considered one of the best guitarists of all time, Jeff Beck let Tal have the spotlight to wow crowds with her lightning-fast solos and solid grooves.
Tal has also performed with Prince, Sting, and Demi Lovato, one of the most popular singers in the world, and has recorded for Jackson Brown, Buddy Guy, and John Mayer. She’s no slouch playing jazz and has worked with fusion pioneers Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.
Currently, Tal is pursuing a solo career that allows her to focus on songwriting, singing, and playing bass. She’ll continue to shine and grow musically, which is why she’s one of the world’s best female bass guitar players.
4. Meshell Ndegeocello
Michelle Johnson was born in Berlin in 1968 but raised in Washington D.C. and adopted the surname Meshell Ndegeocello, which in Swahili means “free like a bird.”
Her name indicates her bass-playing virtuosity, songwriting, rapping, and social justice advocating skills. She sang with John Cougar Mellencamp on a cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night, ” reaching #3 on the Billboard charts.
As a bassist, she can play funky melodic and syncopated sounds that groove, and with her sultry voice, she converts remakes like “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” into something sounding fresh from Motown or Stax Records.
Meshell grew up listening to soul and R&B music from the 70s, so she prefers playing Fender Jazz and Precision basses. She even has a custom bass made by Reverend Guitars, which emulates her stylish yet roots-based music style.
Meshell Ndegeocello’s mesmerizing bass playing will continue to impress and influence the next generation of players, which is why she’s one of the best in the world.
3. Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon is best known for being the bassist in the rock band Sonic Youth and played Gibson, Fender, B.C. Rich and Rickenbacker basses.
Sonic Youth signed with one of the biggest record labels in the world in 1989 and began to unleash their garage rock band style of music onto the world. Kim Gordon not only played bass but wrote songs and sang much of their music.
Kim’s bass playing style is unique because she didn’t play flashy licks or impressive techniques but used bass tones and emotions to craft punk rock bass lines.
A great example of her creativity with Sonic Youth was on their song “Death Valley ’69,” in which her gritty, punchy punk rock bass line propels the song’s dark lyrics.
Although Sonic Youth broke up in 2011 and Kim no longer plays the bass, she is still a fantastic role model for future female bass players.
2. Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding was a musical prodigy and an accomplished violinist who performed with the Oregon Chamber Music Society at age five.
She then taught herself how to play the guitar and bass, becoming so proficient that she received scholarships to impressive music schools like Berklee College of Music.
As a professional bassist, she has won five Grammy Awards for her first album, Chamber Music Society. She is proficient on the double bass and can sing jazz stylings while performing a complicated bass solo on the upright bass.
Additionally, Esperanza is comfortable on the electric bass guitar and uses Fender fretless and Doolin acoustic bass guitar, to list a few. She plays effortlessly on any bass instrument while singing soulful or complex jazz arrangements.
When she was in her 20s, Esperanza was teaching at her alma mater, Berklee College of Music, one of the best music production schools in the world, and was a professor of the Practice of Music at Harvard.
With these accolades and a career that looks bright, Esperanza Spalding is on our list of the best female bassists because she’s such a gifted artist.
1. Carol Kaye
Our number one pick is Carol Kaye, also recognized as one of the best bassists of all time when considering men.
Carol started as a guitarist and began having a successful solo career as a musician in the Los Angeles area during the 60s. During a recording session, a bass player never showed, so Carol switched to the bass and started what would be a fantastic career.
As a studio bass player, she became associated with a group of musicians later dubbed The Wrecking Crew because they could record songs so quickly.
Additionally, Carol recorded with one of the best drummers of all time, Hal Blaine, and is estimated to have played bass on over 10,000 recordings.
Carol has created iconic bass lines for some of the best music producers of all time on songs like “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys and Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.”
Such success is reason enough to crown Kaye as the best female bassist but combine this with the fact that she was a trendsetter in an era dominated by men, and you can see why she even outshines many male bass players.
Although Carol Kaye no longer records sessions, the telltale bass tone she got using a pick combined with her jazz guitar knowledge is why she’ll always be one of the world’s greatest bassists.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed our list of the 10 best female bass players of all time. We tried to include women from all walks of life with various musical backgrounds and styles.
Some of these bass players worked with trend-setting bands and artists, while others like Carol Kaye battled to the top of a male-dominated industry to prove women could be equally proficient on the instrument.
Who’s the best female bass player of all time, in your opinion? Leave a comment below.
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