Player Spotlight - Corey Congilio
By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
This week’s player spotlight focuses on Nashville based session guitarist, producer and guitar tutor Corey Congilio.
Corey could well be one of the best guitarists you’re yet to come across. Not only is he a monster player across a number of different styles, but a fantastic teacher too.
Corey grew up in Phillipsburg, New Jersey where he first picked up the guitar at 13 having previously played the saxophone for several years. In his formative guitar playing years he was influenced by his father and his uncles who were all guitar and bass players. Early on, Corey knew that the guitar and music was his calling.
Later, he moved to Pittsburgh to study Audio Engineering at college and it was here that Corey really began to hone his skills as a live performer and producer.
In 2005 Corey moved to Nashville, to further develop his career as a session guitar player and has since toured with a number of artists spanning across several genres. Most recently, he has toured with British Country Artist and Songwriter, Lucie Silvas. When he’s not playing studio sessions or teaching, Corey is also an Artist Clinician for Martin Guitars, Universal Audio and has previously worked with Fishman travelling around the US and Europe too.
Whilst Corey wears several hats in the guitar playing world (pun intended) it’s his online teaching that he’s possibly best known for. We first came across Corey via Truefire, an online learning platform with a vast catalogue of online courses. You’ll pretty much find anything on there to suit all tastes and abilities. Corey is one of Truefire’s most popular teachers and has over 15 courses covering blues, country, rock and there’s even a bit of jazz thrown in there for good measure too. He has also recently collaborated with other YouTube guitar tuition personalities Brett Papa and YourGuitarSage.
All things strings
Recently, Corey was good enough to take some time out and sit down and chat with us from his home studio in Nashville.
“I’ve generally been a 10-46 kind of person across all scale lengths... I would just adapt”
If you’ve seen any of Corey’s online videos, you’ll know that he owns a wide variety of guitars, all with varying scale lengths. Your eye can’t help but often wander to try and get a closer look at the guitars on display in the background of his studio. You’ll see guitars from Gibson, Epiphone, PRS, Mario Martin, Gretsch and more. And whilst playing the same gauge of string across a range of different scale length guitars could mean the tension feels a little inconsistent from guitar to guitar, Corey says sticking with the same gauge can help to “keep things simple” without having to continually recall the individual set up for each guitar. Quite the job when you have so many on the go.
But, in recent times, things have started to change a bit and Corey has started to “let the guitar tell me what it likes.” His old Epiphone Casino (pictured above) is now often strung up with 11’s whereas he uses 9’s or 9.5’s on his shorter scale Gibsons and PRS guitars.
This year has seen a challenging time for us all, but particularly musicians who thrive and depend on live performances. That being said, Corey always had the vision to use 2020 as a springboard to grow his YouTube channel and being forced to stay at home has meant he’s had the opportunity to double down and focus on growing this side of things. So how can the effects of the pandemic influence what strings he uses? Well the answer lies in playing more....
“The difference between playing live and home playing (for lessons and sessions) is that in live playing, you only get one shot at nailing the solo, whereas at home you can play the same thing over and over again.
It’s just like at the gym, I would do these exercises of 7 groups of 10 reps, and after the 6th one you’ve done like 60 repetitions and it’s really hard, but it’s a very light weight. It’s kind of the same concept with strings… you can play the same riff over and over on 9’s and after a while it still starts to feel fatiguing.
The other difference is that when you play live, you not only have the added adrenaline but if you’re on tour and playing 3 or 4 nights in a row you have the increased stamina. I never thought this side of things existed but it truly does!”
Despite not playing on the road for several months now, we were still curious to know how touring influences string changes.
“Haha, I don’t know anybody who likes changing strings, but I’m lucky in that I don’t perspire much so I can usually squeeze 3 nights out of one set. I know some guys that need to change their strings after every gig.”
When it comes to his choice of brand, Corey is very much a D’Addario man. Throughout our player spotlight blog series, this has become a recurring theme. Many professional players turn to D’Addario for their consistency from set to set and Corey is no different.
If Corey is on tour, he’s fond of using their XL range. Whilst he has used D’Addario’s premium NYXL strings before, he likes to keep an abundance of strings to hand whilst on the road as he needs to change them regularly. He’s an advocate for using what works and the EXL110’s do just the job. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Getting those Creative Juices flowing
During our chat we were particularly curious to see whether Corey gets much down time allowing him to play what he wants, rather than dedicating any playing time to session work or lessons.
“It’s become a wonderful balance of these things. When you get into an arena where you are playing a particular genre of music for a living, you are often forced to neglect other parts of your musicianship because of the task at hand. However, teaching has allowed me to take things that interest me and create inspired lessons from that. I often ask “how can I make the material or lesson inspire me first?” and build from there…. it’s wildly creative if you let it be that way!”
Pearls of Wisdom
As a teacher, Corey comes across a wide range of students in terms of age, ability and styles. We asked him if he often gets asked by his students about what strings they should use.
“A lot of my students are beginners or intermediate. I encourage them to play a light string and have their guitar professionally set up. This helps to build as much confidence as possible early on.
It’s about how to get the music across the best way that you can. If you’re fighting a string gauge and really not achieving the proper bends for instance, you need to think about going lighter. The bend is what’s important, not the size of the string!
Starting with an electric guitar is something I recommend too. But, even if you choose to play acoustic guitar, I would use the lightest string that you can handle without sacrificing tone. Most new acoustic guitars are shipped with ‘light’ gauge strings (usually 12-53/12-54) and you’d feel a lot of difference and benefit initially going down a gauge or two (11's or 10's). Even if you are just starting out, you’ll build up a lot of strength pretty quickly (depending on how much you play) and then you can change your string gauge and get your guitar adjusted from there”
Corey also had some words of wisdom when it comes to looking after your guitar;
“Owning a guitar is very much like owning a car...you have to maintain it. If a car sits in your driveway and you don’t do anything with it for a year, it’s gonna need some love and it’s the same with the guitar.”
This is particularly good advice as we start to experience changes in temperatures and humidity as the seasons change. As things start to get colder we crank the heating up in our homes which can often play havoc with the setup of our instruments.
If you are interested in taking a look at some of Corey’s work and exploring his lessons further the best place to discover everything would be to head straight to his website.
You can also follow him on Instagram and can check out his YouTube page too (which we strongly recommend you do). Corey posts weekly videos and livestreams which have some wonderful insights that can benefit even the most seasoned player.
Thanks for reading and be sure to keep an eye on your inbox for more Player Spotlights over the coming weeks.