The development of the electric solid body guitar owes a great deal to the popularity of Hawaiian music in the 1920s and 1930s. Hawaiian guitars were solo instruments played with a metal slide. Electric Hawaiian guitars were the first instruments that depended entirely on their sound being amplified electrically not just acoustically.
A key figure was Adolph Rickenbacker who originally he was to make metal components for Dopera Brothers' National Resonator Guitars. While at National, Rickenbacker met George Beauchamp and Paul Barth who had been working together on the principle of the magnetic pick-up. Together they formed the Electro String Company and in 1931 produced their first Hawaiian guitars. Their success prompted Gibson and others to start producing electric guitars.
In the 1940s Gibson new electric models became firmly established. People began to work on ways of applying the solid body of the Hawaiian and steel guitars to regular instruments. In 1944, Leo Fender, who ran a radio repair shop, teamed up with Doc Kaufman, a former Rickenbacker employee, started K & F Company and produced a series of steel guitars and amplifiers. Fender felt the large pick-up magnets in use at the time need not be so large. He incorporated a new pick-up which he wanted to try out into a solid body guitar based on the shape Hawaiian but, with a regular properly fretted fingerboard. Though only meant to demonstrate the pick-up the guitar was soon in demand. 1946 saw the formation of Fender Electric Instrument Company and the introduction of the Broadcaster.
In 1955, Seth Lover, an engineer at Gibson, invented the humbucker pickup which revolutionized electric guitars - reducing the electrical hum from single coil pickups to nothing. These humbucker pickups first appeared on Gibson guitars and are widely used by many famous musicians. Seymour Duncan humbuckers are some of the most popular pickups of that type available today.
At the same time Les Paul was working in the same direction. Paul experimented with pick ups throughout the 1930s but, had experienced feedback and resonance problems and began to think about a solid body guitar after hearing about a solid body violin by Thomas Edison.. Paul was convinced the only way to avoid body feedback was to reduce pick up movement and the only way to do that was to mount it in a solid body.
Paul persuaded Epiphone to let him use workshop on Sundays, where in 1941 he built the historic "log" guitar
In 1947 Paul Bigsby in consultation with Merle Travis built a solid body electric guitar that shared certain design features with the Broadcaster that Fender introduced in 1948. Bigsby wasn't far from Fender operation in Fullerton and there is some question who was looking over whose shoulder
Fender was more concerned with utility and practicality rather then looks and wanted a regular guitar with the clear sound of a electric Hawaiian but, without the feedback problems. The result was the the Broadcaster which he began producing in 1948 later renamed the Telecaster.
In 1954, Fender began producing the Stratocaster. Along with the Telecaster and the guitars Les Paul was designing for Gibson, they set the standard for solid body guitars.
Great Guitar Solos
Lemelson Center - Guitar Exhibit at The Smithsonian Institute
The Les Paul Story
How to play Rockabilly guitar