Rock music grew from the blues, but quickly evolved in every direction. The 1950s gave us the music of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. In the 1960s, the British invasion brought us The Beatles and the Rolling Stones who both helped to shape the sound of rock and legitimize rock as “real” music, based on blues roots but also borrowing from the European-classical tradition. The 1960s saw explosive change and the entrance of the most important guitarist in the history of rock and roll: Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix, in one fell swoop, changed the guitar and rock music forever. His style was largely based on blues, but with a harder edge. He was experimental and most people consider him the father of distortion and effects. Hendrix changed the tone of the instrument from soft and twangy to loud and explosive. The 1970s were a rough era—guitar music took a backseat to disco. Disco was king, but that didn't stop innovative bands like the Eagles, the Who, and Pink Floyd from producing breakthrough albums that pushed the envelope.
The 1980s saw important changes in the technique used to play the instrument. Virtuosos such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani pushed the instrument to places it had never been before. The decade of the 1980s was also the age of the guitar solo. In no previous time had technique and guitar soloing been so important.
The 1990s saw the death of “hair-metal” and the birth of grunge.
Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden pioneered the “Seattle” sound, which featured songwriting over virtuosity. The 1990s were a subdued time for guitar and guitar playing—a reaction to all the excess of the 1980s. And rock music continues to evolve today.