Both acoustic and electric guitars have distinct advantages. For learning music, acoustic is still usually recommended. An obvious disadvantage of the electric guitar is its dependence on electricity.
The course of 20th-century music was completely reshaped, however, by the electric guitar. Most critics agree that without the electric guitar, there would be no rock music. It became the single most central instrument in rock bands. However, jazz and other musical forms from which rock descended had been making use of electric guitars for about 20 years. By the 1920s, many musicians were experimenting with different approaches to adding electrical amplification to traditional guitars. In big bands, amplification helped the guitar parts stand out amongst other, naturally louder instruments.
The simple amplification of the acoustic guitar’s natural sound was an immediate benefit, but it soon became obvious that a very distinct instrument could be developed. Notable pioneering models were created by Adolph Rickenbacker. The “frying pan,” a hollow-body aluminum guitar was developed in 1932. Solid-body electric guitars came later, notably those developed by Les Paul in the 1940s and early 1950s.
Artists who made their names in acoustic music, such as folk rock, were often slow to add electric guitars: Bob Dylan made news when he finally did so on a Fender Stratocaster in 1965. Devotees of acoustics cite such factors as a purity of sound that cannot be achieved with electronics.
Rock bands featured both lead and rhythm guitars, sometimes played in alternation by the same musician and other times played simultaneously by two musicians. “Duels” between two lead guitars could add drama and complexity to performances. The development of sophisticated amplifiers and devices such as the “wah wah” pedal further extended the creative possibilities that the instrument itself offered.