- This article is about the instrument. For the song, see "The Guitar". For transcribed chords and tablatures to They Might Be Giants songs, see Guitar Tabs
I think of the guitar in two ways.... One is as a song machine. You sit down and pull the song out of the guitar. The other is as a purely textural instrument to create large slabs of sound in the studio. —John Flansburgh
Guitars have been prominent in They Might Be Giants songs, both on stage and in the studio, since the band's start.
Co-founding member John Flansburgh is the main guitar player. In the late 90s, Dan Miller joined as lead guitarist. Other guitar players have worked with the group over the years, including Eric Schermerhorn, Jay Sherman-Godfrey, and Jonathan Gregg. John Linnell has also played guitar on occasion, notably in "The Big Big Whoredom", "Mainstream U.S.A.", "Mr. Klaw", "Louisiana", and "West Virginia" from his State Songs album.
Flansburgh has used a variety of guitars on stage and in the studio, including:
- Coral Longhorn (hollow body electric, sunburst) - There are two different, but similar Coral Longhorns used in videos. The one appearing in the video for "Don't Let's Start" (1986) was borrowed from Lary 7 . Flansburgh owned the one used in "Purple Toupee" (1988) and "The Guitar" (1992), but sold it "after many attempts to make it practical."
- Danelectro 56 U2 - a black lefty model henceforth seen only in the video for Tender Is The Mind.
- Danelectro 59 DC - John has played two right-handed models, both strung upside down. He plays a copper one in the video for "Birdhouse In Your Soul" (1990), there being photographic evidence of a black one as well.
- Danelectro Longhorn (black solid body) - Used in the video for "They'll Need A Crane" (1988).
- Fender Jazzmaster (candy apple red with an anodized gold pickguard, built by Dennis Galuszka in the Fender Custom Shop) - Purchased in October 2007. A backwards Fender logo was added to the headstock at the request of Flansburgh. John has used this guitar for the majority of the first leg of the Join Us tour. It is now seen in tandem with the blue Fender Telecaster in live shows.
- Fender Mustang - "My first guitar was electric. It was a baby-blue Fender Mustang. I learned to play while working at a parking lot in Washington D.C." He started out with only the top three strings, as it was easier to wrap his hand around and form chords. There are photos of him playing it in about 1980-81, during The Blackouts and The Turtlenecks period.
- Fender Telecaster - Flansburgh has used three different ones, all left-handed, including:
- The first, purchased in mid-1986, which was a Japanese 3-tone sunburst Custom model with a white 3-ply pickguard. It was his first actual left-handed guitar. Dial-A-Song number is seen embedded as large white numbers in the neck. He retired this Fender in the mid-90's "[...] when the neck broke for the third time and the whole thing was really a beer soaked wreck.” Flans made various modifications to the instrument, such as replacing its pickups various times, removing the tone knob, and replacing its neck. In some promotional photos the
- The second is almost identical to the first, and was purchased circa early 2000s. It has had its white pickguard decorated with decals of The Puppet Johns since 2005, and has been seen in several live performances in the mid 2000s. It has been relegated to a backup in recent years.
- A third Telecaster was purchased in September 2005: a Fender Custom Shop 1962 Sonic Blue Custom model built by Dennis Galuszka with a white 3-ply pickguard, though both have greened from age. Flansburgh has since currently favored this one in frequent live performances.
- Fender Stratocaster (buttercream) - Only used in a 2005 mini-show
- Fernandes Telecaster copy (black) - A right-handed guitar, seen in early promotional photographs with a white THEY sticker. Later turned into the 'Chessmaster prototype' realized with foam core and duct tape" and used in the "Rabid Child" video (1985?).
- Fernandes "The Revival" Stratocaster copy (metallic purple) - Used from around early 1986 to 1988. Used on Lincoln and seen during early live shows, such as a taped live performance for Everything Right Is Wrong Again - this guitar is right-handed but strung upside-down. In 1986, the guitar had a white THEY sticker printed onto it, but it was removed sometime in early 1987.
- Gibson ES-330 (cherry red) - One of Flansburgh's earliest guitars. "I never even thought about other guitars I enjoyed it so much. […] It is the double speed guitar on the recording They Might Be Giants—flown in from the original demo made five years before the album) but alas it was stolen in a big apartment theft." This was the guitar used at the El Grupo De Rock And Roll show.
- Gibson ES-335 (cherry red) - Purchased around 1995 after the sunburst Les Paul was stolen. Commonly seen on stage from the late-90’s to the mid-2000’s. Relegated to backup duty, but still used in some live performances.
- Gibson L1 acoustic guitar - Custom built during the John Henry sessions.
- Gibson L48 - According to Flans, this guitar, which is occasionally seen in promotional photos, early TV Appearances and rarely at live performances, was purchased with his first Bar/None royalty check.
- Gibson Les Paul (sunburst, gold tops) - Flansburgh has also been known to use Les Pauls from time to time:
- A sunburst Custom was purchased in 1991, used from 1992 to 1995 this one at the House of Blues in New Orleans. , and can be seen in live performances from around the mid-90's, such as
- Les Paul gold tops have occasionally popped up in live performances and music videos, most notably the one used in the "Doctor Worm" (1999) video. Flansburgh can be seen using a gold top with P-90's throughout the 2000's, such as this live performance at the Polish National Home. He has used this guitar for smaller shows during the Join Us tour.
- Gibson SG (white)
- Gretsch Bo Diddley prototype (firebird red) - Borrowed for use in the video for "(She Was A) Hotel Detective" (1986).
- Gretsch 6118 (smoke green) - Used on stage in the early 2000s, including on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and depicted in Mink Car promotional photos.
- Gretsch 6120 (orange) - Used for some songs on Mink Car and at an appearance on The Early Show in 2002, as well as in a photo shoot for an unknown magazine.
- Jerry Jones Guitars Guitarlin (blood/creamburst finish) - Used in "Snail Shell" (1994) and "Albany" (2004).
- Mojo Chessmaster (gold, designed by Flansburgh and built by Chris Cush of Mojo Guitar Shop) - Used live during the Apollo 18 tour and appeared in music videos from 1992-2011. While he still owns the guitar, it has been semi-retired from live shows, but is set to make a come back sometime during the Flood 30th Anniversary shows.
- Yamaha FG-160-BK (black) - Used in the video for "Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head" (1986), was also used at a mid-1980s Pyramid Club show and was likely used in a 1987 live show at Speakerkits Plus Records.
Guitars of lesser note
John Flansburgh likes to keep his social media updated with his instrument purchases.
- In August 2012, Flansburgh posted that he purchased a green Eastwood Airline Bighorn, purportedly to celebrate International Lefthanders Day.
- In 2013, he found a right-handed Danelectro Shorthorn bass at a yard sale
- In 2015, he posted about using a Hagstrom III
- One month later, he copped an original left-handed circa 1970 Gibson 12-string acoustic on eBay
- In 2018, he picked up a lefty Custom Shop Fender '61 Stratocaster (from 2007) on Reverb
- An image posted to Instagram in 2018 also depicts an elusive left-handed Fender XII , a Hofner Club Bass, and a righty Fender Precision Bass. Flans has used an actual lefty Precision Bass on stage at some trio shows circa 2008, including the TED talk, and it may be the one played upside-down by Chris Anderson in the Q U video.
Flansburgh has spoken at length about the difficulties of playing right-handed guitars strung for left-handed players.
Miller has used:
- Gibson ES-335 (yellow, black pickguard) - Purchased in late 2001. Used in the video for "Cloisonné" (2011) and recorded with on Join Us. It was used occasionally in the mid-2000s, and used again occasionally in the 2010s, and used for majority of the first leg of the 2013 tour.
- Gibson Les Paul Deluxe (goldtop, white pickguard) - Part of Dan's live guitar rig since 2005, and has since been frequently used in live many live performances throughout most of the late 2000s and 2010s.
- Gibson Les Paul Special (TV Yellow, black pickguard) - Used on Late Night With Conan O'Brien in 2007, and in several shows during the summer of 2007.
- Burns Drifter (red with white pickguard) - Used in a 2004 performance of Experimental Film on Late Night With Conan O'Brien.
- Gibson SG Zoot Suit (rainbow) - Purchased in 2010, and occasionally acts as a backup guitar. It was used occasionally in some shows in 2010 and 2011.
- Fender Stratocaster (black, white pickguard) - Miller has favored this guitar in many live performances since. The neck pickup has been replaced with a humbucker. It is currently outfitted with a whammy bar.
- Fender Telecaster (red, white pickguard) - Purchased around 1999. Used all over Here Come The ABCs and seen in several music videos from said album. A red guitar strap with "I❤NY" printed has been outfitted since 2002, to match its body. Used occasionally in several live shows in the early 2000s, and has frequently favored this guitar for several live shows for majority the 2010s decade.
- Hamer XT Series SATQ (honeyburst; no pickguard) - Miller has used one in some shows in 2001.
- Danelectro D56 (blue) - Dan's original guitar. In the early 2000s, it was used as a MIDI guitar for live performances, often on songs such as "She's Actual Size".
- Epiphone Acoustic PRO-1 (natural; black pickguard)- Used in live performances when acoustic guitar is featured on certain songs. Sometimes fitted with an acoustic pickup when needed. Miller has used favored this acoustic guitar in frequent live performances between 2004 until 2011.
- Epiphone Acoustic Hummingbird Pro - Used in several live performances in 2012.
- National Val-Pro 82 map guitar (scarlet) - played on The Tonight Show and occasionally appears as a stunt guitar at hometown shows.
- Gretsch Country Club (olive green) - single cutaway hollow body with a Bigsby and two Filtertron pickups. Miller frequently used this guitar during the first leg of the 2018 tour, used in a TV performance on Conan O'Brien.