Learn to Play: Mike Bloomfield Lead Guitar Lesson with Jeff Massey

Mike Bloomfield was a true original when it comes to guitar-playing, proficient as an acoustic, electric, and even slide guitar player. Before his untimely death in 1981, Bloomfield's resume was an impressive list of credits that included work with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Bob Dylan, and The Electric Flag alongside countless solo recordings in which he delved deep into gut bucket blues-style guitar-playing.

Later in his career, Bloomfield seemed to lean toward a smooth, laid-back soloing style, somewhat abandoning the sizzling off-the-cuff improv style he had been known for in the late 1960s. With The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he would dabble in long improv jams within traditional blues structures, creating an almost jazz approach at times.

Bloomfield stretched the boundaries of the instrument with each performance and recording, but his 1965 performance with Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival is specifically notable. Considered an important part of rock 'n' roll history, it was the first time that Dylan preformed all-electric with a full band. The majority of the ideas presented in this lesson were inspired by that well-documented performance.

Bloomfield's early days with Butterfield and Dylan were driven with a stingy sound produced by a Telecaster running through a Fender amp—usually a Twin or Super Reverb—though he also used Gibson and Guild amplifiers in the studio. He eventually switched from a Tele to a '59 Les Paul and was also occasionally spotted with other guitars like the Gibson 335.

The licks I’ve chosen for this lesson are among Bloomfield’s more aggressive from his Tele era, with a presentation that's loose and on the edge. You can see him really just going for it on stage with Dylan at the Newport festival, so the idea here is to grab some of the attitude and feel of Bloomfield’s approach and take a standard pentatonic scale into the stratosphere. A quick stingy vibrato along fiery paced pentatonic runs are the template for these concepts.

Remember, the point here is to keep it loose—Bloomfield was never afraid to take chances when improvising a solo and the idea is to work that attitude into your own guitar-playing. Most importantly, have fun.

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