It was brought to my attention some years ago that I didn’t pick the strings very hard, so I began to analyze my right hand technique and to experiment with picking harder or softer. It seemed to me that when I was in doubt, like when I wasn’t real sure that I could accurately play what I was trying to play, or trying to play faster than I really could, I picked softer, in case I fucked up. But that’s a double-edged sword. If I did fuck up, I might have time to mute the offending note(s), back off the volume pedal or correct the clam. But, playing softer seemed to take a little bit of the edge off my technique, and actually made me play less accurately. It also seemed to have a deleterious effect on my tone, and that’s the last thing I want.
So what are ya gonna do, risk a hairy ol’ clam hanging out there like a big Matza ball or go for the gold? Hell, I’ve heard Joe Pass records where he muffed a note, but producer Norman Granz let it go by because the rest of what he’d played was so great.
After many years of experimenting I now vary my attack on the strings considerably. I wang the hell out of the strings sometimes, and barely let a pick graze them, or it, at other times. Like, I’ll play a G chord at the 10th fret and then work my way down to the 3rd fret when I’m about to go to the 4 chord and just barely pick the 9th string to get that dominant 7th in there before I go to the C chord.
If you’re fortunate enough to be playing with a good bunch of musicians who actually listen to what you’re doing, you can play with a lot of dynamics – louder and softer as the band follows you – and create something worth listening to.