"What makes a great guitarist?" This is an interesting question and one which 99% of aspiring guitarists want the answer to. Trouble is, there are so many different variables which can make someone great, good, cool whatever. What I aim to do here is give you some ideas on what you will need to do to start on that long and bloody difficult path to greatness.
01. Firstly we will look at style. Do you want to be a rhythm or lead guitarist, an acoustic or electric, fingerpicker or use your teeth? Style is very important, Look at any so-called guitar god and they will have something that sets them apart from everyone else. Hendrix had the wah-wah, Van halen had the tapping, Vai has the million notes a second and Morello has the weird effects.
What you have to decide is how you intend to be different. Do you have any weird riffs that indicate a unique style? or maybe you do some kind of metal/country/dance hybrid. But whatever makes you unique, play on that and develop that particular style until people start to comment on it and ask 'what the hell are you doing'? The whole idea of style is to make people get up and take notice of you. This wont happen if you copy everyone else.
02. Image. Not only do you have to be original but it certainly helps if you look the part too. Take note of Dave Navarro. Here is someone who takes more care of himself then his guitar playing and for him it has definately paid off. He hasn't written many memorable riffs or solos but everyone knows who he is because of how he looks. Just like a sportsman or pop star, Navarro uses his image as part of what makes him a guitarist, and he markets this by showing up at film premieres and at modelling shows. By making himself like a product he draws attention to his playing and to his band Janes Addiction. Other guitarists to learn from include Slash with his top hat, Satriani with his shades and Hammett and Hetfield with their insistance of wearing black.
03. Practice. Now ive saved the most important aspect till last so it stays in your memory. Practice is what puts you up on stage in the first place. You cannot be a guitar legend if you cant play a note. What works for me and countless other players is to set aside so many hours a day for some strict practice. Here is an example of the type of schedule that i would use.
1st hour - Warm up: 15 mins - 3 note per string ascending pattern 15 mins - 3 note perstring descending pattern 15 mins - fingering 2,4,1,3 accross whole fretboard 15 mins - hammer ons and pull offs
2nd hour - Rhythm playing: 20 mins - playing to backing tracks 20 mins - learn 5 ways to play G7 20 mins - downpicking and palm mutes
3rd hour - Everything: 20 mins - fingerpicking 20 mins - learn a riff 20 mins - tapping
Now this is only an example and everyone has different time windows tp practice in, but what im showing you here is that to be a truly great guitarist you have to be comfortable across many musical genres and styles. it doesn't matter if you have 1 hour free a day to practice or 10. what is important is that you write down what you intened to practice and stick to it. Also, don't stick to 1 style eg. punk or metal. play some funk or some blues if you get bored as playing riffs from a different genre really help relieve boredom and can get you out of that rut.
As I said before, it doesnt matter how many hows a day you practice but try to make it consistant. Playing 1 hour a day is better than playing 10 hours 1 day a week and then putting the guitar down for 7 days. Your brain has nerves which strengthen with repetition so by doing something regularly your brain learns to keep those pathways inside your brain active, and it makes it a lot easier to pick up the guitar the next day having remembered that lick you have practised the previous day.
There is something Joe Satriani said which is spot on, and its that when learning some death metal speed riff or something, to play it as slow as possible so you play it perfectly. By not playing something 100% correct everytime it takes your brain up to 7 times longer to master the skill. So to make sure you play it right, slow it right down so you can play it correctly. If satch says so, it must be true.
The last tip I have is to get out there and jam with some friends. You learn so much by playing with another musician thats its invaluable. After all, how many guitar legends do you see touring as a 1 man band?
Get your guitar, get that mirror, find that cool pair of comedy leather trousers and find yourself a friend or 8 (Slipknot wanabees), and start on that journey to legendary status. Good luck.