Like a lot of people, I probably spend way too much time goofing off on the computer. One of my favorite pastimes is checking out other musicians/ guitarists on the Internet and particularly myspace.com. I have a page on there myself, in addition to my own personal website, and I often get requests from other musicians to add them to my friends list. I have heard a lot of great musicians on myspace.com but, I have also heard/seen something that really bothers me; clones of famous guitar players!
I'm not talking about guitar players where you can clearly hear the influence of famous guitarists in their style. I'm talking about people who play the same gear (and emulate the tone), wear the same clothes, write songs in the same style using the same scales, riffs, chords, rhythms, etc. of a well-known guitar hero. The world already has (or had) a Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Eric Johnson.
Please don't misunderstand my intentions; I'm not knocking people who buy artist's signature equipment. Artist model amps, effects and guitars are a wonderful thing. Usually these models give normal everyday (non-famous) musicians the opportunity to buy top notch gear at reasonable prices. It's only when people use this equipment to exactly copy a particular guitarist's tone and style that it all goes wrong.
When you listen to an internationally known professional guitarist, you may hear their favorite guitarist's influence in their playing. While these musicians may have borrowed ideas from their influences, they took these ideas and did their own thing with them. That's a big part of the reason why they are so highly regarded. And, (with a few exceptions), they don't wear the same exact clothes, hat and underwear as their influences!
A good example of a player who took his main influence and became his own man is one of my favorite players; Michael Schenker. He has stated in interviews that he was inspired by Leslie West and is a big fan of his playing. When you listen to Michael's incredibly thick guitar tone and his vocal-like melodies, you can hear Leslie's influence on him, but he is far from being a Leslie West clone. The influence seemed obvious once I read about it, but had I not read it in a guitar magazine, I probably would not have put it together. Michael is a unique player with his own immediately recognizable phrasing and note choice which combines bluesy riffs and bends with modal melodies and classical sounding arpeggios.
Almost everyone starts out copping licks from their favorite players. It's a time honored way to develop your library of licks, as well as a good way to discover new concepts and ideas. In the old days, guitarists would wear out record albums by playing the same section of a record over and over again; trying to learn a particular solo or song. With the proliferation of guitar tablature transcriptions on the web, and software to slow down CD's or digital files, it's easier than ever to learn your favorite player's licks. The real trick is in taking these licks, ideas and concepts and doing your own thing with them. Once you get beyond the beginning stages of guitar playing, your goals should include expressing yourself. Isn't that really what being a musician is about? No one wants to hear the guitar equivalent of a musical parrot!
What can you do to prevent or cure a case of "Clone-itus?" Sadly there isn't a cream or pill available to help someone who is suffering from this vile affliction. Trust me, if there was, some drug company would be running commercials on television right alongside the ones for penis enlargement and erectile dysfunction. "This is Bob. Bob is a Satriani clone." Fortunately, there is a cure, and the only side effect will be musical enlightenment, originality, respect from other musicians, hordes of screaming fans, fame and fortune, etc. (okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating just a little....)
So, we've established that there is no quick fix. Then, what can be done? A little common sense and a few simple concepts will do the trick just fine.
Take your favorite SRV, Chuck Berry, Vai (insert your favorite guitarist's name here) licks and do the following:
1. Take the riff or lick and vary the rhythmic feel.
a. If the phrase had straight 8th notes, try changing some notes to triplets
b. Change the note values, hold some notes longer and/ or some shorter than the original phrase.
2. Vary the note sequence.
a. Change the pitch of one or two notes.
b. Change the order of the notes.
c. Play the riff backwards.
d. Change both the pitch and order of the notes.
3. Vary both the rhythmic feel and note sequence.
Using these above techniques should enable you to come up with your own unique licks and phrases based on some of the licks you already have in your arsenal. Try several options for each lick and you will come up with some cool stuff.
In summary: pretty much every note or combination of notes on the guitar has already been played by someone before you. It's how you mix and combine those notes and inject your own personality via phrasing techniques such as rhythmic variety, bending, slurs, slides and vibrato that will make your guitar playing stand out from everyone else. While it's not necessarily possible to be 100% original for the reason I mentioned prior, it is still possible to be unique. So what are you waiting for? Express yourself. The world is waiting to hear you be you!