- 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 guitar henceforth seen only in the video for Tender Is The Mind.
- Danelectro 59 DC - John has played two, both right-handed guitars 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 majority of the first leg of the Join Us tour. It is now seen in tandem with the blue Fender Telecaster for some live songs.
- Fender Telecaster - Flansburgh has used four different ones, including:
- The first was purchased around 1985 and was a dark sunburst model with a white pickguard. It has the Dial-A-Song number taped on to the fretboard. Not much else is known about this one, as its only known appearances were a handful of early promotional photos.
- The second was purchased in 1987 and was a 3-tone sunburst Custom model with a white 3-ply pickguard. He retired it in the mid-90's "[...] when the neck broke for the third time and the whole thing was really a beer soaked wreck.”
- The third is almost identical to the second. 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. Purchase date is unknown, but is estimated to be sometime during the late 90s.
- A fourth Telecaster was purchased in September 2005: a '62 model built by Dennis Galuszka in the Fender Custom Shop in Sonic Blue with a white 3-ply pickguard, though both have greened from age. Flansburgh has favored this one in frequent live performances.
- Fernandes Telecaster copy (black) - A right-handed guitar, seen in early promotional photographs with a white THEY sticker and 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 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.
- Gibson ES-330 (cherry red) - John's first guitar. "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 in 2020.
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) - Purchased in late 2001. Used in the video for "Cloisonné" (2011) and recorded with on Join Us.
- Gibson Les Paul Deluxe (goldtop) - 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 SG Zoot Suit (rainbow) - Purchased in 2010, and occasionally acts as a backup guitar.
- Fender Stratocaster (black) - Dan's live guitar rig since 1999. The neck pickup has been replaced with a humbucker.
- Fender Telecaster (red) - Part of Dan's live guitar rig since 1999. Used all over Here Come The ABCs and seen in several Here Come The ABCs videos.
- Hamer 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 (natural)- Used in live performances when acoustic guitar is featured on certain songs.
- 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 - single cutaway hollow body with a Bigsby and two Filtertrons, which was used during the first leg of the 2018 tour.