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Corey Congilio on growing out of his hair-metal B.C. Rich Warlock phase and his greatest gear finds

Corey Congilio
(Image credit: Alex Berger)

In this month's Bought & Sold, the prolific teacher, session champ and Nashville blues player shares his gear regrets, epiphanies and thoughts on the the big existential questions of our craft – single coils or humbuckers? Cheap electric guitar and good amp or really good guitar and cheap amp?

But before we trace his guitar journey back to the beginning, let's start with a quick run-through of his current rig: “I play Two-Rock amps and go between the Bloomfield Drive and Studio Signature,“ he says. “I play a handful of PRSes, but I’m often seen lately with my ’61 Epiphone Casino or ’64 Gibson ‘Conversion’ SG. My pedalboard almost always has a Greer Lightspeed on it and other drives – Nobels ODR-1, Vemuram Shanks, J Rockett The Dude or Karma MTN-10. 

“In my home studio I’ve become attached to my Ebo E-verb, but live I use Source Audio’s [Ventris and Nemesis] for reverb and delay. One of my fave sleeper pedals for modulation is the Boss MD-500. I do a mix of sideman work, so having a variety of things is always useful and fun to me.”

Two-Rock amps and a vintage Casino? That's a far cry from his first guitar...

What was the first serious guitar you bought with your own money?

“Okay, this is going to come as a surprise to many… it was a BC Rich Warlock! I literally rolled coins and used a piggy bank of sorts to pay for it. I loved hair-metal at the time, but once I heard SRV and Hendrix, a Strat would replace the Warlock.”

What was the last guitar you bought and why?

“I ordered a Novo Miris and should have it by the time your readers see this. I love to support small builders. I especially like to support those that are pushing the envelope of design but keeping elements of tradition in their products.

I’m really on a quest like never before to find ‘my sound’, so I’m experimenting with anything and everything

“I’m really on a quest like never before to find ‘my sound’, so I’m experimenting with anything and everything. I’ve admired the Novos for some time and I thought I’d go in a new direction and try one of their designs.”

What’s the most incredible find or bargain you’ve ever had when buying a guitar?

“I can’t say that I’ve had any downright steals, but one of notable mention would be my 1969 Harmony H64. It needs a fret job, but the gold foils are killer and it’s in great shape. I should have it ready to go soon. The price of vintage Harmony guitars has really gone up and I got this one for a price of a few boutique guitar pedals.”

What’s the strongest case of ‘buyer’s remorse’ that you’ve ever had after buying a guitar or piece of gear?

“Hmm… I’ve actually had a few of those moments. Unfortunately, it’s always when ordering a custom guitar. I suppose that’s because what is in your head doesn’t always translate to the builder 100 per cent. I had an amazing James Trussart SteelCaster that I couldn’t bond with.

“At NAMM shows I would lust over all of his guitars and really connect with them instantly. However, the one I designed just didn’t work for me. It was totally my fault and I made some choices that weren’t well thought-out. That being said, I’d love to own another!

“I also tried to make inexpensive guitars work for me, too. I would try to get them at a bargain price and then upgrade the parts and electronics. It was really a waste of time, energy and money. Live and learn, I guess.”

Let the guitar pick you. In all seriousness, try to play it and don’t listen with your eyes

Have you ever sold a guitar that you now intensely regret letting go of?

“To be honest, not really. I had a Tom Anderson Hollow T that was my main guitar for many years. I started to move away from Teles and this one was hollow so it wasn’t a traditional Tele.

“I didn’t think anyone would want it as I had beat it up pretty well and changed the pickups a few times. I tested the sales waters and someone wanted it. I thought I’d really regret selling it, but I haven’t. I will say that I wish I had the Marshall JCM800 I bought when I was 14. That would be fun to have in the studio.”

What’s your best guitar-buying tip?

“Let the guitar pick you. In all seriousness, try to play it and don’t listen with your eyes. I did that too many times and have sold most of those choices.”

When was the last time you stopped to stare in a guitar shop window and what were you looking at?

“I wouldn’t say I looked through a window as such, but living in Nashville means you can gaze at loads of vintage guitars on one main strip just outside of downtown. I’ll find myself at Gruhn’s [Gruhn Guitars Inc], Carter Vintage Guitars or Rumble Seat [Music] and lust over old Strats and 335s. Those would be my most droolworthy instruments.” 

Would you rather buy a really good guitar and cheap amp – or cheap guitar and a top amp? 

“I think I’d have to go with a cheap guitar and great amp. I’ve played cheap amps on tour due to rental and backline situations and the amp is always the weakest link. If the speaker is inefficient or the amp is underpowered, you’ll be fighting the rig all night.”

If you could only use humbuckers or single coils for the rest of your career which would it be?

“Humbuckers, for sure. As someone who played single coils for years, the conversion to playing more humbucker guitars was not that difficult, as I found they suited my playing style better. I can make a humbucker twangy if necessary and still get Hendrix-y in the neck if need be. 

I found humbuckers suited my playing style better. I can make a humbucker twangy if necessary and still get Hendrix-y in the neck if need be

“That being said, I could see how driving a sports car would be fun before turning around to drive a monster truck. It’s all about the music you’re making with the instrument that’s currently in your hands. That’s where the fun, experimentation and discovery comes from.”

What’s your favourite guitar shop and why? 

“Oooh, that’s tough to answer. Each shop has an identity and personality. Staff, inventory, decor and more go into the shop’s vibe – I could never pick a favourite. However, if I had to pick a guitar-related business at this moment it would be XAct Tone Solutions or XTS in Nashville. There isn’t a question they can’t answer or a problem they can’t fix. I searched for years for a guitar-nerd haven and they are it!”

  • Corey Congilio's 50 Progressive Blues Licks You Must Know is out now via EMedia.