Electric vs. Bass guitar
So you want to learn a musical instrument? That's fantastic and a great idea to pursue. Many people who enjoy music and rock band playing look at the electric and bass guitarists in the band and dream of being on stage to play like them. The question comes up for those who want to learn these instruments is which one should they choose? They are both similar and different at the same time and play different roles in a band. While neither are overly complicated there are a lot of things to consider beforehand in your instrument choice.
The first thing that must be considered before you ever purchase an instrument is what interests you. Are you interested in being that "guitar hero" lead guitarists with sick rifts and solos? Are you more interested in being a rhythm guitarist to compliment the lead? Or are you more interested in the beat and background thump that runs the song via the bass? This first consideration is more important than anything else and must be focused on before setting out to the store. Let's look at the primary differences between lead, rhythm, and bass guitar and through those differences you should be able to determine what you would like to play.
The part of the band that almost everyone focuses on and wants to play is the lead guitar. People remember those amazing solos that people like Steve Vai, John Petrucci, and Joe Satriani play on stage as they are the lead guitarist and really open up the songs. Lead guitarists in bands will set the course of the song by giving it a distinct sound and create more melody like tones. Where the rhythm guitarist will be playing chords predominantly, you will be using scales and modes a lot more often. Scales like the major and minor pentatonic are just a few of many you will have to know when the song starts which will require your constant input to guide the song and give it feeling and emotion.
An important thing to note about lead guitar is that even though you will be playing a lot of solos and using a ton of scales, you will still have to know chords so when you first start out learning electric guitar you will be learning everything a rhythm guitarist will learn and then take it to the next level with your solos that you are likely dying to learn. Have a firm solid foundation of music theory and good guitar playing and then hit the ground running with your lead guitar learning.
If you have seen the amazing sounds of rhythm guitarists like James Hetfield or Joe Perry you know that a good lead guitarist must be accompanied by an amazing rhythm guitarist or else the song will fail hardcore. Rhythm guitarists run the groove of the song, whereas the lead guitarist sets the tone and movement of the song. A good rhythm guitarist is a master of time with the metronome and, when playing, the drummer as well. Chord playing is key, and knowing where to take the song will allow you to have power to drive home certain styles or notes you want to hit out with your instrument.
If you are desiring to learn rhythm guitar it is a good idea to both learn electric as well as acoustic because the sound of an acoustic works in so many scenarios that it's important to know. Chords are the primary thing you will be learning as chords set a great sound for the lead guitarist to go on. There are a ton of chords out there, but starting with the basics like C,G,D,E,A, and F are a great solid foundation that I used. Once you get down these common major chords you can begin to learn their minor counterparts and then take on more complicated things like barre chords and seventh chords. You are vital to any band and if your rhythm, timing, or sound is off it will mess up everyone else. Make the metronome your best friend and that internal timing will push you forward to greatness.
Whether you learn electric or acoustic guitar for lead or rhythm, there is also another counterpart that plays a vital and yet different role in bands which is the bass guitar. The bass does something different in that it sets the volume and beat of the song. If you ever hear a great band but don't notice the bass guitar because it's not as prominent, you would notice immediately if it cut out. The bass is like the foundation of band that enables the guitarists to do their job. A bass guitarist will have to be in perfect sync with the drummer to set the beat and speed of the song, and the underlying play style of the scales and thumps of the bass guitar set the motion of any song forward or backward depending on the competency of the player.
If you want to learn bass then you will be focusing not on the guitar hero lead guitarist, but on the subtle sounds of the background of a song. Drown out the guitars and listen to the underlying sound of a song and feel it. This is key to becoming a good bassist, and if you are able to make licks and sounds that complement the song you will be noticed by all from the deep sounds you make. When playing the bass guitar you want to practice scales and modes, but you also have to practice timing. Timing is vital as I mentioned about being in sync with the drummer, and if you can provide a great sound with the beat right on queue you will be a great addition to any band.
Differences come together
Now that you see the difference between electric guitar (lead and rhythm) and bass guitar, you can make a good decision as to which you would be interested in playing. I personally love the sound of lead guitar, but I have a much bigger interest in rhythm electric and bass guitar and that's where I succeed. Knowing what your interest is in a band will lead you to pursue that. Find a cheap guitar kit or set and a great instructor to guide you in your musical journey and you will succeed with flying colors.