Jim Lill videos - everything you've ever read about tone is probably BS

I searched the forum here and didn’t see much (or anything) about Jim Lill here. Thought I might save you folks some money?

Jim Lill’s youtube channel takes all that crap that we (and all other music forum people) debate endlessly about tonewood, and sustain, and vintage vs modern, and tube vs solid state, and Brand X vs Brand Y, etc - and he ACTUALLY tests it, records it, lets you listen and then: tactfully, studiously, masterfully, never tells you his opinion. He lets you decide. The line he repeats over and over is, “I don’t know anything about X, I’m just a performer, but…” and then he lets you actually listen. Insert whatever topic for “X” - wood, circuits, acoustics, whatever he happens to be testing.
All of us internet folks talk and talk and talk. His entire channel is actual, real world, practical testing of all that crap we talk about. And he lets us decide. And if we’re honest with ourselves about what we’re hearing - it should give us some real pause about what “we know” and what we read. Turns out - almost none of it is true.

My favorite video was testing amps. “Where does the tone come from in an amp?”. He painstakingly eliminates one option after another and concludes that the ONLY things that matters are 1) distortion, 2) EQ, and 3) what order those first two come in. Using that knowledge he built an “amp” out of a metal toolbox using guitar pedals and breadboards - and throwing a switch he can make his toolbox sound like a Fenders mid 60’s Twin, a VOX AC30 and a Marshall JVM410. It’s not a modeling amp - it just uses the same distortion and EQ, in the same order, as the original amps. The similarity his toolbox comes to $30,000 worth of vintage amps is astounding.

And my favorite quote from him is, “Have you ever heard the phrase, writing about music is like dancing about architecture? People have been saying things for years. What I did was show you sounds for you to listen to. You can decide for yourself…”

Sorry if this post opens up a new rabbit hole for you - BUT, it might just save you money in the long run.


rabbit hole indeed. Just watched one video and it was fascinating.


Watch the “where does tone from from in an electric guitar” video next. He keep stripping away parts until its just a nut, bridge, strings and pickups. No actual guitar. Just strings in space tensioned between two workbenches over the pickup. (And he’d already pretty much eliminated bridge type/construction as a factor). Takeaway: holy crap do your pickups matter!!!


yep, that’s the one I watched.


I watched some of this guys videos, and they made some sense, up until I moved a Fralin pickup from one bass to another and it sounded completely different. Moved the electronics too. So the body design and tonewoods seemed to have more impact than I expected, however a sample of one is insufficient, but I don’t categorically rule out tonewood based on my experience any longer


A selection of Jim’s most “liked” YouTube comments:

  • “This man is single-handedly destroying decades of bad-faith guitar industry marketing and general guitar superstition.”

  • “This man is singlehandedly destroying the guitar industry just by asking some questions and doing some tests. I love it.”

  • “In 20 minutes you’ve undone decades of marketing by guitar cab manufacturers to justify crazy prices for a wooden box. Hats off to you!”

  • “appreciate all the effort you’ve put into testing long held, and inaccurate, beliefs in the electric guitar world. Strings, pickups, and signal processors are the most important parts of an electric guitar signal chain, period.”


Lots of different variables in that change though, right? Maybe most importantly, were the pickups exactly the same distance from the strings, and were they exactly the same distance between nut and bridge (and of course same scale). If those variables weren’t exactly the same, then you were measuring no less than 3 changes just to the pickups (height, distance, bass body it was placed into) and that’s assuming every other single thing on the two basses were identical.

It would make an interesting, but difficult experiment. We’d need 2 or 3 body shapes, and each body shape in 2 or 3 woods, every other single factor including neck, strings, pickups, bridge, setup, etc. would have to be identical. Then you’d need to record all for comparison. But Jim kind of already made that all moot. He just recorded a guitar, and kept taking away things that people “say” affects tone - re-recording and comparing, all the way up until he took away the wood entirely! Sounds indistinguishable from original.

As he says in one of his videos, (and I’m paraphrasing): it’s super super easy to make two things sound different - but if he changes something and they sound the same - that’s incredibly unlikely to occur through random chance - and it’s powerful evidence that whatever he just changed - that produced the same sounds, doesn’t have an effect. It’s the gold standard for reductive inference in science: the null hypothesis. Jim never says it outright, but his null hypothesis is always, “factor X does not effect tone”. He records. He changes factor X. He records again. If there is not a change, then the null hypothesis is true.

That’s what makes Jim’s videos different and valuable - he admits the limitations of a test, controls the variables, films it so it’s a repeatable experiment changing only one variable at a time, records the results, and shares for everyone else to compare. Science FTW!

(One other awesome thing about science as Jim’s conducting it - it is completely 100%, bulletproof, immune from anyone saying, “no, that’s wrong” UNLESS they do an experiment, to the same standard, that disproves the first. People can say anything they want - Jim lets you listen for yourself. )


Not as many differences as you would think, we’re talking 50s Tele basses here, so not as much variation on pickup placement. I’ve raised and lowered pickups before so it’s not that. The main difference was in the body shape and wood, and the neck shape, both necks were maple.

So the difference was in the design and wood, which according to Jim, don’t matter.

But they do. I was surprised how much

I don’t buy what this guy’s selling. I did, up to that pickup swap. But in science you go with the data. I’m satisfied, but I’m just a dude on the internet. Apply liberal skepticism


He’s just a performer what does he know about electronics circuits. Most of the time he said he was either not satisfied or confused, lol.

This is a great video debunking BS.


I knew this looked familiar… I really enjoy this guy’s videos.


Thanks - I searched the forum and thought for sure that this had been posted before - but couldn’t find it. “tone wood” got me too many results and “Lill” got me none.


No worries at all. There’s certainly a lot to sort through

1 Like

I like his videos and find them interesting.

1 Like

Almost every activity I’ve ever been involved with has been littered with contrasting opinions.
A quote that I read a long time ago was along the lines of “The more something is argued about, the less likely it is to be a factual difference and the more likely it is to be an opinion.”

Tone with electronic instruments, as far as I’m concerned, has way too many contrasting opinions in regard to the wood being used to ever be taken seriously.

The ability to make music is totally unrelated to scientific understanding or analysis, so I still have guys that the music shop tell me that strings die because of getting accumulated finger gunk and oils in them, which are non magnetic and can’t possibly make any difference, yet metal fatigue and youngs modulus are absolutely understood and accounted for in any other important field of engineering.
Once you look at the secondary traveling wave on bass strings on high speed video, it’s pretty obvious that it’s the main instigator of the high frequency component of the sound. Once the string has been stretched past the elastic limit from continuous retuning, that traveling wave diminishes and the strings “go dead”.

No mystery there.
Yet it has to have other explanations because many experts have one field of expertise ONLY.


We really aren’t allowed to bring up tonewood, it divides the group :flushed:

1 Like

Jim Lill was featured in a Wired magazine article: This Mythbustin’ Nashville YouTuber Is on a Guitar Gear Mission | WIRED



I’ve heard all kinds of stories about sustain, and all I can add at this point is my J (12lbs) sustains longer than my SB-2 (9.7lbs) which sustains longer than my P (8.2lbs).

Do rounds sustain better than flats? I know a guy with a P with flats who says “No”.

I seriously want to know what genres people are playing where sustain is a problem worth worrying about for bass. All of my basses are under 4kg and all of them have enough sustain that they can hold a few bars of whole notes from a single pluck.

Even for chord drones that is plenty.

1 Like

I like sustain

Ed Zachary!

Just who is this Leo guy and what makes him an expert? :thinking: