The Role of Electric Guitars in Shaping Unique Sub-genres of Country Music

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Picture this: the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar accompanied by a soulful voice singing about heartbreak and home. This is the image that comes to mind when one thinks of country music. However, there is so much more to the genre than just that. Electric guitars have been a crucial part of country music for decades, and have even given birth to unique sub-genres. In this article, we will explore the history of electric guitars in country music, the different sub-genres they have given rise to, and their impact on modern country music. So, grab your favorite pair of boots and let’s dive into the electrifying world of country music.

History of Electric Guitars in Country Music

History Of Electric Guitars In Country Music
Country music has been defined by its unique sound that differentiates itself from other genres of music. A prominent factor that contributes to creating this sound is the electric guitar. Over the years, the electric guitar has played a crucial role in shaping the music genre, and its sound has evolved significantly. From the early days of acoustic guitars to the birth of electric country music to the impact of rock and roll, the history of electric guitars in country music is fascinating. In this section, we will delve into the evolution of electric guitars in country music, from the pioneers’ innovations to the technological advancements that have impacted the genre. We’ll explore the roots of acoustic country music and the birth of the electric country music movement.

Acoustic Roots

The roots of country music can be traced back to the early days of American history. Country music was heavily influenced by blues, jazz, gospel, and folk music. The electric guitar itself evolved from the acoustic guitar, which was a prominent component of country music since its inception. The sound of the acoustic guitar created the signature twang associated with country music.

The acoustic guitar was the primary instrument used in country music until the 1930s when the electric guitar began to gain popularity. The electric guitar was first introduced in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar was created. One of the pioneers of this innovation was Les Paul, who created the first solid-body electric guitar in the early 1940s.

The electric guitar transformed the sound of country music. It allowed for more volume and sustain, which made the guitar a more prominent instrument in the genre. In the early days of electric guitar in country music, players used amplifiers to create different tones and effects. The amp sound played a crucial role in developing the unique sounds that came to define the genre.

The early electric guitars were heavily influenced by the sound of Hawaiian slide guitars. Players used steel bars or glass slides to create a distinct sound that became synonymous with country music. The use of finger-picking techniques was also popular in country music and is still used today.

In the 1950s, country music saw a surge of popularity with the emergence of artists like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. This era also saw the birth of the Bakersfield Sound, a sub-genre of country music that originated in California. Musicians like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard rose to fame with their unique sound that featured the electric guitar heavily.

The electric guitar allowed for greater experimentation with different sounds and styles of playing, which led to the birth of new sub-genres of country music. Outlaw country, for example, was a rebellious sub-genre that emerged in the 1970s and was heavily influenced by rock music. Artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings rejected the polished sound of Nashville and created a raw, gritty sound that resonated with fans.

The electric guitar has played a significant role in shaping the sound and evolution of country music. Its impact can still be felt today with modern artists continuing to push the boundaries of what is possible with the instrument.

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Birth of Electric Country Music

The birth of electric country music marked a turning point in the genre’s sound, expanding its possibilities and opening doors for new sub-genres to emerge. In the mid-1930s, guitar manufacturers such as Rickenbacker and Gibson started producing electric guitars, which gradually made their way into country music.

One of the earliest proponents of electric guitars in country music was Bob Wills, a bandleader from Texas known for his Western Swing sound. Wills’ band, the Texas Playboys, incorporated electric guitars and amplifiers into their music, which helped create a new, high-energy sound that quickly became popular among audiences.

Another artist who helped popularize the electric guitar in country music was Merle Travis, whose fingerpicking style heavily influenced Chet Atkins and other guitar pioneers. Travis’ unique sound was shaped by his use of the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, which was designed specifically for electric guitars.

The arrival of electric guitars in country music also coincided with the rise of hillbilly boogie, a sub-genre that combined elements of Western Swing and blues. Artists such as Moon Mullican and Pee Wee King embraced electric guitars and drums, creating a rhythm-driven sound that would later influence rockabilly and rock and roll.

As the popularity of electric guitars grew, so did the number of artists incorporating them into their music. By the 1950s, country music had evolved significantly from its acoustic roots, thanks to the innovations of guitar pioneers such as Les Paul and Leo Fender. The electric guitar had firmly established itself as a key instrument in country music, propelling the genre towards a new era of amplified sound.

Learn more about the history of electric guitars in country music and their evolution of sound.

Influence of Rock and Roll

When it comes to the evolution of country music, the impact of rock and roll cannot be underestimated. In fact, the influence of rock and roll on country music can be regarded as one of the most significant factors that led to the birth of electric country music.

Rockabilly was a sub-genre of rock and roll that emerged in the early 1950s and was heavily influenced by country music. Rockabilly artists such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins infused country music into their rock and roll sound by integrating the electric guitar, drums, and bass into their music. As a result, this fusion of genres paved the way for the Country-Rock movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

One of the most prominent rock-influenced styles of country music is Outlaw Country, which emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Outlaw Country rebelled against the polished and corporate Nashville sound and embraced a raw, gritty sound that was reminiscent of rock and roll. Artists such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash used the electric guitar in their music, giving Outlaw Country a distinctive edge.

Texas Country is another sub-genre of country music that owes its sound to rock and roll. The term “Texas Country” refers to both the state of Texas and a specific sound that developed in that region. Artists such as Billy Joe Shaver, Townes Van Zandt, and Guy Clark played a style of country music that was heavily influenced by rock and roll. They used electric guitars and drums to create a sound that was uniquely their own.

Another sub-genre of country music that had strong rock and roll influences is Bakersfield Sound. This style of country music originated in Bakersfield, California, and was popularized by artists such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. These artists embraced the electric guitar and used it to create a driving, energetic sound that was different from the smoother, Nashville sound.

The influence of rock and roll on country music cannot be overemphasized. It paved the way for the creation of new sub-genres, such as Outlaw Country, Texas Country, and Bakersfield Sound. The integration of the electric guitar and drums helped create a sound that was uniquely American and led to a new era of country music. If you want to read more about the impact of electric guitars on country music, check out this article on country music and electric guitars.

Electric Guitar Driven Country Sub-genres

Electric Guitar Driven Country Sub-Genres
When one thinks of the quintessential country sound, twangy acoustic guitars usually come to mind. However, the electric guitar has played an integral role in the evolution of country music. In fact, electric guitars have been a driving force in the creation of several unique sub-genres within the country music world. From outlaw country to rock-influenced country, the electric guitar has left its mark on the sounds that define each sub-genre. Let’s delve deeper into the electrifying sub-genres of country music, and explore the guitar innovations that made them possible. To learn more about the evolution of electric guitars in country music, check out our article on guitar pioneers and innovations, or discover how the sound of country music has changed with the rise of electric guitars in our blog post on the impact of electric guitars on country music.

Outlaw Country

Outlaw country was a unique sub-genre of country music that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a response to the polished and highly-produced Nashville Sound that dominated the country music scene at the time. Outlaw country rejected the mainstream Nashville Sound and also incorporated themes of rebellion, honky-tonks, and hard living.

Outlaw Country Musicians
Outlaw country was defined by the musicians who played it, including Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard. They rejected the cookie-cutter image that country music had become, and incorporated elements of rock and roll, honky-tonk, and blues into their music.

Outlaw Country Style
Musically, outlaw country was characterized by the raw sound of electric guitars, often played with distortion and reverb. This gave the music a gritty, unpolished sound that was a departure from the slick, polished sound of the Nashville Sound. Many of the lyrics in outlaw country songs were about the struggles of life, and the music reflected this rawness and honesty.

Impact of Outlaw Country
Outlaw country had a significant impact on the music industry, and paved the way for many artists who would follow in their footsteps. The movement was a backlash against the commercialization of country music, and helped to create a more authentic and honest sound.

Incorporating the electric guitar into country music was a key part of this movement, and is still important in country music today. To learn more about the pioneers and innovations of the electric guitar in country music, check out our article on guitar pioneers and innovations.

Texas Country

One of the unique sub-genres of country music that prominently features electric guitars is Texas Country. This genre emerged in the 1960s and has a distinct sound that sets it apart from the traditional Nashville style of country music. Texas Country is characterized by its strong lyrics and storytelling, with a focus on the Lone Star State’s culture and lifestyle.

Artists: Texas Country boasts a variety of talented artists who have contributed to its growth and popularity. Some of the most famous names in Texas Country include George Strait, Willie Nelson, and the Dixie Chicks.

Instruments: While the electric guitar takes center stage in Texas Country music, there are other instruments that contribute to the genre’s unique sound. These include the fiddle, steel guitar, and drums.

Sound: Texas Country is known for its electric guitar-driven sound. The music is generally characterized by its upbeat and energetic rhythms, but it can also be slow-paced and emotional. The lyrics often tell stories of small-town life, love, and whiskey.

Venues: Texas Country artists often play at small, intimate venues such as honky-tonks, dance halls, and bars. These venues provide an up-close and personal experience for fans and allow them to experience the raw energy of Texas Country music.

Influences: Texas Country has been influenced by a wide array of musical genres, including rock, folk, and blues. Its unique sound has evolved over time, with each artist adding their own style and flavor to the genre.

Artists Instruments Sound Venues Influences
George Strait Electric guitar, fiddle, steel guitar, drums Energetic and emotional with a focus on storytelling Small, intimate venues such as honky-tonks and bars Rock, folk, and blues
Willie Nelson Electric guitar Upbeat and energetic rhythms with a focus on lyrical storytelling Dance halls and small venues Jazz, blues, and rockabilly
Dixie Chicks Electric guitar, fiddle, banjo, steel guitar, and bass Folk-infused with a focus on harmonies and storytelling Intimate venues such as cafes and theaters Bluegrass, country, rock

Texas Country has had a significant impact on the country music industry, and its electric guitar-driven sound continues to influence modern country music sub-genres. With its unique blend of storytelling, instrumentation, and influences, Texas Country continues to capture the hearts of music lovers everywhere.

Bakersfield Sound

The Bakersfield Sound is a sub-genre of country music that originated in the 1950s in California. It was pioneered by musicians such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, who strayed away from the polished and smooth sound of Nashville’s country music scene. Instead, they began incorporating elements of rock and roll into their music, giving birth to an edgier and more raw style of country music.

Key elements of the Bakersfield Sound include:

  • Driving electric guitar riffs and solos
  • Twangy vocals
  • Sparse use of string instruments
  • Faster tempos and danceable rhythms

Buck Owens’ hit song “Act Naturally” is a prime example of the Bakersfield Sound. The song’s guitar intro immediately sets the tone for the rest of the tune, with its bouncy rhythm and catchy melody. The overall sound is driven by the electric guitar, with Owens’ twangy voice adding depth and character to the track.

Merle Haggard is another influential figure in the Bakersfield Sound. His breakout hit “Swingin’ Doors” features a classic electric guitar solo that still sounds fresh today. Haggard’s voice also embodies the twangy, gritty sound that characterized the Bakersfield Sound.

The impact of the Bakersfield Sound can still be heard today in modern country music. Artists such as Dwight Yoakam and Chris Hillman have carried on the tradition, incorporating the same driving guitar riffs and twangy vocals into their music.

The Bakersfield Sound is a unique sub-genre of country music that has had a lasting impact on the genre as a whole. Its emphasis on electric guitar and fast-paced rhythms made it a departure from the smooth and polished sounds of Nashville, and its influence can still be felt in contemporary country music.

Rock-influenced Country

One of the most popular sub-genres of country music that emerged in the 1970s was the rock-influenced country music. This sub-genre brought together the elements of traditional country music with the energy and attitude of rock and roll. It gave birth to a new sound that attracted a younger audience to country music.

The Eagles were the pioneers of this genre. Their songs like “Take it Easy,” “Already Gone,” and “Hotel California” were a blend of rock and country music that became instant classics. Their use of electric guitars, harmonies, and rock-style instrumentation influenced countless other bands and artists.

Another influential artist in this sub-genre was Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their southern rock sound coupled with country-style storytelling became their trademark. Hits like “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and “Free Bird” helped to define the new genre.

The Charlie Daniels Band was also an important contributor to rock-influenced country music. Their song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is a classic example of the fusion of country and rock. The use of rock-style instrumentation in the song gave it a powerful, energetic sound that resonated with audiences.

The influence of rock and roll on country music continued well into the 80s and 90s with artists like Garth Brooks and Travis Tritt incorporating rock-style instrumentation and attitude into their music. Hits like “Friends in Low Places” and “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” showcased their high-energy, rock-inspired sound.

The rock-influenced sub-genre of country music brought a new sound and energy to the genre. It blended the traditional elements of country music with the power and attitude of rock and roll, and influenced countless artists who followed. It remains popular to this day, and its impact on modern country music continues to be felt.

Rock-influenced Country Artists Hit Songs
The Eagles “Take it Easy,” “Already Gone,” “Hotel California”
Lynyrd Skynyrd “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Free Bird”
The Charlie Daniels Band “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
Garth Brooks “Friends in Low Places”
Travis Tritt “T-R-O-U-B-L-E”

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The Impact of Electric Guitars on Modern Country Music

As country music has evolved over the years, so too has the role of the electric guitar in shaping its sound. From its humble acoustic roots to its electrifying modern sound, the electric guitar has played a significant role in the development of country sub-genres such as outlaw country, Texas country, and the Bakersfield sound. In this section, we will explore the profound impact that electric guitars have had on modern country music, including the rise of bro-country and pop country, the return to traditional country, and the current trends in electric guitar usage. Get ready to dive into the electrifying world of modern country music!

Bro-country and Pop Country

Over the past few decades, country music has gone through significant changes, and the advent of electric guitars in the genre has played a crucial role in shaping these developments. Electric guitars have allowed country artists to explore various sub-genres, including the highly popular Bro-country and Pop Country.

Bro-country is a sub-genre that emerged in the 2010s, characterized by its party anthems and themes centered around the “bro” lifestyle. Typically, these songs feature high-energy, uptempo melodies fueled by electric guitars, drums, and synthesizers. Artists who are associated with Bro-country include Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, and Jason Aldean. These artists have commercialized the music genre and turned it into an industry, creating catchy tunes and easy-to-relate-to lyrics that appeal to younger audiences.

Pop Country is another sub-genre that is heavily influenced by electric guitars. It emerged in the 1980s and has since become mainstream, with artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Shania Twain gaining popularity through their catchy pop-infused country tunes. Pop-country often has crossover appeal, attracting fans of pop and rock music in addition to country enthusiasts.

Despite their commercial success, Bro-country and Pop Country have faced criticism from purists who argue that the lyrics and themes portrayed in these sub-genres deviate from traditional country music’s roots. In response to this critique, some country artists have returned to a more traditional country sound, emphasizing storytelling, acoustic instruments, and authenticity.

While Bro-country and Pop Country are still prevalent in the country music scene, there has been a shift towards more traditional country sounds that feature the use of acoustic instruments and a focus on storytelling. This trend has become increasingly popular in recent years. Artists like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson have been at the forefront of this movement, bringing back a classic country sound that emphasizes musicianship, authenticity, and emotional depth over commercial appeal.

Electric guitars have played an essential role in shaping the evolution of country music, leading to the emergence of sub-genres like Bro-country and Pop Country. While these sub-genres have faced criticism from traditionalists, they have also opened up the genre’s fan base to a broader audience. Nevertheless, the influence of traditional country music is still alive, and it will be interesting to see how the ever-evolving genre continues to develop in the future.

Return to Traditional Country

In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in the country music industry, as some musicians have returned to a more traditional style that emphasizes storytelling and authentic instruments like the acoustic guitar and fiddle. This has led to the rise of what some critics call the “new traditionalist” movement, which seeks to honor the roots of country music while still appealing to contemporary audiences.

One of the leaders of this movement is Chris Stapleton, whose soulful vocals and gritty lyrics have won him widespread acclaim in the industry. He has stated in interviews that he sees himself as part of a lineage of country musicians who prioritize authenticity, and he often performs with a vintage Gibson acoustic guitar to achieve a timeless sound.

Another important figure in the return to traditional country is Sturgill Simpson, who incorporates elements of outlaw country, bluegrass, and rock into his music. Despite his diverse influences, he has emphasized that his music is fundamentally grounded in the traditions of country music, and he often performs with a traditional country band that includes fiddle and steel guitar players.

In addition to these individual artists, there are also labels and festivals that are dedicated to promoting traditional country music. For example, the Americana Music Association holds an annual festival and conference that showcases a wide range of Americana styles, including traditional country. Meanwhile, labels like Rounder Records and Sugar Hill Records specialize in releasing traditional country albums by artists like Alison Krauss and Tim O’Brien.

The return to traditional country has been praised by some critics as a refreshing change from the more pop-oriented sound that has dominated the industry in recent years. However, others have argued that traditional country is simply one subgenre among many, and that there is room for a wide range of styles within the country music umbrella.

Regardless of one’s opinion on the matter, it is clear that the return to traditional country has had a significant impact on the industry, as more and more musicians are embracing the values of authenticity and musicianship that have defined the genre since its inception.

Current Trends in Electric Guitar usage in Country Music

Country music has come a long way since its creation in the early 20th century. Electric guitars have played a vital role in this evolution, influencing the sound and style of the genre. Today, electric guitar usage in country music continues to evolve, as artists experiment with different sounds and styles. Let’s take a look at some of the current trends in electric guitar usage in country music.

Blending of genres One of the biggest trends in modern country music is the blending of genres. Country artists are incorporating elements of pop, rock, hip-hop, and electronic music into their sound, and electric guitars are often used to create the high-energy, driving sounds associated with these genres.
Use of effects pedals Effects pedals have become increasingly popular in country music, allowing guitarists to create unique and diverse sounds. From distorted overdrive to shimmering chorus, effects pedals can add depth and dimension to a guitar’s tone, and country musicians are taking full advantage of this technology.
New sounds and textures Modern country artists are always searching for new sounds and textures to incorporate into their music. This has led to experimentation with unconventional guitar tones, such as ambient swells, tremolo picking, and even guitar looping. Guitarists are pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the instrument, and the result is a rich and diverse landscape of sounds in country music.
Return to vintage gear While modern technology has certainly opened up new possibilities for electric guitar usage in country music, many artists are also going back to the tried-and-true vintage gear. Classic amps, guitars, and effects pedals are making a comeback in the country music arena, as musicians seek to capture the warm and authentic sounds of the past.
Diversity in playing styles Finally, there has been a recent trend towards diversity in electric guitar playing styles in country music. From the intricate fingerpicking of traditional country to the shredding solos of rock-influenced country, guitarists are exploring new techniques and bringing fresh perspectives to the genre. This diversity has led to a more inclusive and dynamic country music scene, with something for every type of guitar enthusiast.

As the world of country music continues to evolve, electric guitars will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping its sound and style. Whether it’s the use of cutting-edge technology or a return to vintage gear, there is something exciting happening in the world of electric guitar usage in country music. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of both genres, and we can’t wait to see what comes next.


After examining the role of electric guitars in country music and exploring the unique sub-genres that have emerged from it, it’s clear that the instrument has been essential in shaping the sound and identity of the genre.

As the electric guitar evolved from its acoustic roots to become a staple in country music, it spawned new styles and sounds that challenged traditional norms and paved the way for experimentation. The emergence of outlaw country, Texas country, and the Bakersfield sound each brought their own unique twists to the genre and showcased the versatility of the electric guitar in creating a wide range of tones and styles.

Despite the influence of rock and roll, modern country music has continued to evolve and blend elements of different genres, including pop and hip-hop. However, traditional country sounds and themes have also experienced a resurgence, with artists returning to their roots and embracing the twangy, guitar-driven sounds of the past.

Today, there is still a place for the electric guitar in country music, with artists continuing to push boundaries and experiment with different sounds and approaches. Whether it’s the gritty, blues-infused riffs of outlaw country or the polished production of pop-tinged country hits, the electric guitar remains a vital part of the genre’s DNA.

In conclusion, electric guitars have played an integral role in shaping the sound of country music, from its earliest roots to the contemporary hits of today. As long as there are country artists willing to push boundaries and embrace new sounds, the electric guitar will continue to be a driving force in the genre’s evolution.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the history of electric guitars in country music?

Electric guitars in country music have their roots in the acoustic guitars that were popularized by traditional country artists like Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers in the 1920s and 1930s. They were electrified in the mid-1940s, thanks to pioneers like Les Paul and Leo Fender.

What are some sub-genres of country music that feature prominently electric guitars?

Some of the sub-genres of country music that prominently feature electric guitars include Outlaw Country, Texas Country, Bakersfield Sound, and Rock-influenced Country.

What is Outlaw Country?

Outlaw Country is a sub-genre of country music that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a response to a perceived lack of authenticity in the Nashville Sound. The genre embraced electric guitars and a more raw, stripped-down sound.

What is Texas Country?

Texas Country is a sub-genre of country music that originated in Texas in the 1970s. It features a mix of traditional country sounds and electric guitar-driven rock influences.

What is the Bakersfield Sound?

The Bakersfield Sound is a sub-genre of country music that originated in the 1950s and 1960s in Bakersfield, California. It features electric guitars and a more honky-tonk influenced sound.

What is rock-influenced country?

Rock-influenced country is a sub-genre of country music that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as country musicians began incorporating elements of rock and roll into their sound. Electric guitars are a key component of this sub-genre.

How have electric guitars impacted modern country music?

Electric guitars have had a significant impact on modern country music, with sub-genres such as bro-country and pop country incorporating heavy guitar riffs and solos.

What is bro-country?

Bro-country is a sub-genre of country music that emerged in the 2010s with a focus on party anthems and lyrics about rural life. It often features electric guitars and heavily produced tracks.

What is pop country?

Pop country is a sub-genre of country music that incorporates elements of pop music into its sound. Electric guitars are often used in the genre, but they are typically more subdued than in other sub-genres of country.

What are some current trends in electric guitar usage in country music?

Some current trends in electric guitar usage in country music include a return to more traditional sounds, as well as a resurgence of slide guitar and pedal steel guitar.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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