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The Importance of Influences

Hundred Greatest Guitarists: Hendrix at Monterey, Rolling Stone, 2003
Hundred Greatest Guitarists: Hendrix at Monterey, Rolling Stone, 2003

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The Importance of Influences – Man, what can I say about this topic…? You know what the ol’ saying says, Surround yourself with greatness and you’ll be great too! Or, at least look to those that have made it in the music business who are awesome guitarist and make a good living doing what they do best. These are the kind of folks that you need to know more about. Ask yourself; what has made these people stars, money, recognition and fame? How did they persevere through the good times and the bad times too? Just like me, Ken Snyder was also inspired to pick up the guitar by listening to Kiss. That band had such an impact on me when I was first starting out. I took a lot of flack for it too! However, listening to them got me interested in guitar playing and learning my first Blue Licks / Pentatonic scales by listening to Ace Frehley even when I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d listen to those live albums over and over again trying to get those songs down. The records were played so much that I had to stack quarters on the needle of the record player to keep the record from skipping. Yes, Then came Led Zeppelin and I knew I was hooked. I was amazed at Jimmy Page’s Guitar Playing, then Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. Oh! Let’s not forget Carlos Santana. I guess you got to start somewhere and your influences are the ones that made you want to do what they are successfully doing. Of course girls had a lot to do with it too! So please, let my friend Ken Snyder give you the scoop on Influences and then check out his video below. Don’t forget, Guitarz is here for you to help keep you heading in the right direction with your guitar playing. - Riffmaster

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The Importance of Influences – by Ken Snyder



How I got started


Influences play an important role in the development of a guitarist.  They inspire someone to actually pick up the guitar and ultimately they contribute the development of ones style.  For me hearing Kiss made me want to put down the trumpet and pickup the guitar, though I can’t say that my Mom was overly thrilled with the idea.  It wasn’t long after that when I first heard Led Zeppelin that truly inspired me to learn the guitar and really take it seriously.  That moment opened a Pandora’s Box of inspiration which I have never recovered from! 


My earliest influences


In my earliest days of playing guitar I would say that Zeppelin was my primary influence.  To this day I still improvise a lot in my playing which goes back to them.  Other early influences were Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Queen as well as the aforementioned Kiss, which were all the current in vogue bands/artists (yes I am probably giving away my age here!).  I could have stopped here but instead I decided to dig a little deeper.  It is important to not only listen to your favorite artists but to also dig into their influences and peers.  This can open up new ideas or provide a broader scope of their styles.  This led me to listen to blues artists as well as other artists like Hendrix, Cream and Deep Purple.  Believe it or not the local radio station would play zep all the time but never played any Hendrix (that did change later).  Hendrix has been a huge influence over the years that I may never have discovered if I didn’t go looking.

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Lightning in a bottle


For me there were new guitarists that quickly changed my perspective and pushed me to greater heights.  The first was Eddie Van Halen.  The first time I heard EVH was actually from Van Halen II, which was starting to get radio play for “Beautiful Girls” on the local radio.  This album sales caused VH I to actually start charting again which led them to play “You Really Got Me”, so I bought VH I first.  I would say my reaction was a bit of shock coupled with denial.  Eruption was like nothing ever heard before and Eddie’s tone was so lively it sounded like your head was in his speaker cabinet.  There is a raw energy on this album that has been unmatched sense.  I imagine the shock waves from this album were similar to Are You Experienced?  It changed rock guitar forever.  This album pushed me to practice harder and longer almost overnight as well as introduce me to tapping, which is still very prominent in my playing today.


Funny thing with this time in rock guitar is that it wasn’t long before another bolt of lightning hit.  Randy Rhoads and the first Ozzy album came out and Crazy Train become another tune that got my fingers working and provided another bent on playing.  Randy’s influence was a little different in that the shock of VH was because it was so radically different.  I think Randy pushed me into learning some of the theory behind what he was doing and I dug the wide vibrato on Crazy Train which is present in my playing.


Lightning is not supposed to strike twice, let alone three times but it did.  Yngwie Malmsteen burst onto the scene with Alcatrazz and again I was not ready for it.  Right away I had never heard anyone play that fast and that clean.  I really was like that’s not possible is it?  I know over the years Yngwie has been bashed both in the press and by guitarists alike, but for those who don’t remember or were too young to know, Yngwie did change guitar playing overnight again.  Not since VH I was there anything that changed guitar so dramatically.  This pushed me harder still and introduced me to sweep picking and arpeggios.  I also practiced harder than every because of him.

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Teach an old dog new tricks


It is very common for guitarist to develop their style and never evolve from that.  I believe that as a musician you can constantly be influenced by new things that enhance your style rather than change it.  When I started in Cut Throat a couple of the members were big Pantera fans.  To that point I had never really listened to them much, but I quickly realized what I had been missing.  This inspired me to really expand my rhythm playing (yes I know Dimebag is a great lead player) and add the aggression along with the precision that made Pantera head and shoulders above the rest.  It didn’t change my style, instead it expanded and improved it. 


Shedding your influences and developing a style


I have several friends both musicians and non-musicians alike that tell me they can tell my playing immediately.   When I hear that it puts a smile on my face, though I have to say this was not always the case.  There was a time when I sounded too much like my influences and it took someone pointing this out that made me work on avoiding some of my influences signature licks.  I always try to learn the theory and methods behind some of these licks without actually copping the licks verbatim.  I worked hard on developing my vibrato to be my own, which I think is important in developing a signature sound.  Equally important is to not focus on one specific influence.  This can be dangerous because it can lead you to sound just like your favorite guitarist.  Ultimately this should be the furthest from your goal.  To me someone like Brian May is one of the most distinguishable guitarist ever, which is one of the things that makes him so great.  To create your own voice is the most important thing.  Also don’t be afraid to step outside of the music style you perform in.  Examples of some diverse influences for me are Yes, Santana, the Police and the Allman Brothers.  I would bet anyone listening to any of the cds I played on would probably not guess any of those, but I hear them throughout my playing. 


In closing


Influences will ultimately shape a guitarist style.  Always learn from your influences but don’t try to copy them.  Remember to keep an open mind in regards to new and diverse influences, regardless of style.  A guitarist should always evolve and improve without losing their identity.   The ultimate goal is to develop your voice on the guitar were it reflects your influences but ultimately sounds like you and no one else.  When you can do that you evolve from being a guitarist to being a true artist.


Ken Snyder

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When I started in Cut Throat a couple of the members were big Pantera fans. To that point I had never really listened to them much, but I quickly realized what I had been missing. This inspired me to really expand my rhythm playing (yes I know Dimebag is a great lead player) and add the aggression along with the precision that made Pantera head and shoulders above the rest. It didn’t change my style, instead it expanded and improved it. - Ken Snyder

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Updated: 3/17/07