Playing music for me is like typing. If a tune lives between frets 1 and 6 + open strings and is written out in tablature, then I can usually read the tab well enough to play what it shows on the page. Some minor variations might happen accidentally, but overall I can pretty much make it sound like the tune it's supposed to be.
This is the same to me as transcribing a hand-written letter into a typed one. Although imagine that the letter I'm typing is in a foreign language that I don't understand. I have a pretty good attention to detail, so I can almost get the letter word for word without any spelling errors, but I still have no idea what the letter that I'm typing says. That's what playing music is like for me. Any variations I do are more like type-O's than different ways of saying the same sentence.
I'm working on a repertoire of about 100 traditional tunes. So in effect, I "type" out the same musical letters over and over again. Hopefully some day I'll have these tunes memorized...then it'll be like an actor reciting his lines...but more like the actors in Avatar who had no idea what they were saying because their lines were in the Na'vi language they made up for that film.
As weird as it sounds, I enjoy this process. It helps that I am not striving towards any sense of authenticity, proficiency, or tradition. I play music for the sake of playing music, for my own enjoyment and fulfillment. The instruments I've chosen are merely vehicles for playing the tunes I want to. However, I do wish there was somebody out there whose musical goals and interests overlapped with mine to the point where we could get together and practice on a regular basis, and work out a set of crappy versions of traditional tunes! Anybody?