The term copycat refers to a person who imitates or adopts the behaviour or practices of another. When we look at this through the lens of being a musician, it is not that person that learns a few cover tunes for their top 40 band, but rather someone who either of their own accord or through someone else has been led to believe that they have to play, think and reason in the same manner as some of the best and brightest musicians out there in order to be effective, which really isn’t the case seeing as whoever the person/player is they will always be unique in their own right.
For example, when I was in high school there was a guy who was of Japanese decent, let’s just call him T.K, who could play David Lee Roth’s Yankee Rose song perfectly from beginning to end the way Steve Vai played it on the studio recording, and yes, he was that good. There was another young player which I heard about on MTV back in the day who was said to be a young Steve Vai, and to say he had all his chops down pat would be an understatement, which just goes to show, when a person who loves to play, if they put in some quality practice time they can be just that good and excellent a player.
What I hope to pass along to my students is that no one should ever feel obligated to follow in the exact musical footsteps of any particular player that they might admire. A great example from the 1980’s is all the guitarists who were trying to imitate Eddie Van Halen, and not too long after that, there were players trying their level best to imitate Yngwie J. Malmsteen. There was no originality and everyone started sounding the same!
The bottom line here is that there will always be something that we can learn from our favorite players, but unless you are playing in a tribute band where the music has to be so exact to the point where people have to look twice in order to realize that it’s not the original artist playing it, then there is no reason to become a copycat. Rather, learn as much as you can from them, and then reconfigure what you have learned as much as possible so that you will make it your own, and this is what will set you apart from other guitar players.