Man at Work: Actor Danny Masterson Has Embraced a New Leading Role at His Recording Studio, Bronson Island

August 8th, 2013

This is an excerpt from the all-new September/October 2013 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story, plus features on Paul Allen, Mike Bloomfield, and Chet Atkins’ experimental Gretsch, head to the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.

Man at Work: Best known as a television star, actor Danny Masterson has embraced a new leading role at his recording studio, Bronson Island.

By Richard Bienstock
Photography by Travis Shinn | Styling by Ilaria Urbinati at The Wall Group

Danny Masterson has worn many hats in his lifetime—child model and actor, restaurateur, bar and boutique owner, radio-show host, globetrotting DJ, and, of course, television sitcom star. But on the day that he welcomes Guitar Aficionado to his home, situated in the Bronson Canyon area of Los Angeles, the 37-year-old actor is preparing to embark on a new venture. In a few days, he will be launching a YouTube channel to present live video of bands performing at Bronson Island, the fully equipped recording studio that he and two friends constructed in the three-car garage that sits off to one side of his residence.

The property itself has its own uniquely weird musical history. “Chuck Berry owned this place for about 30 years,” Masterson says. Back in the Nineties, when Masterson was enjoying steady TV and film acting work but had yet to land what would be his breakout role as the afro’d and acerbic stoner dude Steven Hyde on That ’70s Show, he and his friends would hang out at the house. “It was always like, ‘Party at the Chuck Berry estate!’ ” Masterson recalls. “By that time, Chuck was renting it out, and the place was a wreck—deck chairs in the pool, that sort of thing.

“But it was a great place. Every year I would call up whoever was overseeing the estate and try to buy it.” The property was eventually sold, but to another buyer who had designs on flipping it for a quick profit. “The guy did a really bad renovation,” Masterson says. “But the day it went on the market again, I bought it. Now I’m slowly redoing everything.”

Chief among Masterson’s reno work is the garage-cum-studio project. He first came up with the Bronson Island concept some years back, when he was moonlighting as a part-time radio DJ on Indie 103.1 in Los Angeles, cohosting a Monday night show called Feel My Heat. “We would have a lot of the new young indie bands at the time come in for acoustic on-air performances,” he recalls. “I would film them on my Leica and put it on YouTube, and we would get a ton of hits.”

He takes a similar, if more involved approach, at his studio, which he runs with engineer Mike Schuppan and video producer Jimmy Collins. “We have eight little surveillance cameras, we put them around the room, and we film bands we like,” Masterson says. “We mix it all live on an eight-channel Roland V-8, like a football game or something—‘Camera 1… Camera 3… Camera 6…’ ” A quick visit to the Bronson Island YouTube page reveals the first fruits of their labor, with intimate performances from popular indie acts like Tapes ’n Tapes and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Recently something else has been happening at Bronson Island. As Masterson and his team have put more time and energy into the studio, it has begun to function as not only as a live performance room but also a practice space and recording facility. The Strokes, close friends of Masterson’s, recently stopped in for some pre-tour rehearsal, and Foster the People have logged time here to work on demos for their upcoming sophomore album.

A quick tour of the facility makes it clear why bands have been setting up shop here. While most of the artists who come through Bronson Island tend to have some sort of connection to Masterson—they are usually either friends of the actor’s or artists whose music he admires—the small space is packed with choice and, in some cases, quirky gear. A Trident Series 65 console, which, Masterson notes, was once the property of famed trumpeter, synthesist, and film composer Mark Isham, takes pride of place in the control room, flanked by various mixers, multi-effect units, and other outboard equipment.

Over in the live room, the walls are lined with an assortment of new and vintage amps, including Orange AD30s and Rockerverb 50s, old Fender Bandmasters, Bassmans, and Deluxe Reverbs, and a Sixties Harmony H400. An assortment of synths, keyboards, and other toys, including a Minimoog Voyager, a Fender Rhodes Mark I, a Wurlitzer electric piano (a rare Music Laboratory Instructor Console version from a piano-instruction class, complete with an illuminated keyboard display panel), and an Etherwave Theremin sits in the corner, awaiting the call of duty.

Scattered throughout the studio are various effect pedals, microphones (the entire studio is outfitted with mics provided by Blue Microphones), and guitars. Chief among Masterson’s stash are his two primary acoustics, a Gibson J-45 and a Guild F-30 fitted with a DeArmond pickup. There is also a black Vox Virage (a gift from Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi, who also offered up a nearby Carr Slant 6V combo), a range of Fenders—a Strat, a Jaguar, and a Jazzmaster, as well as Precision and Mustang basses—and a few oddballs, including a Univox ’Lectra bass and an early Eighties Gibson Victory MVX.

Surveying the room, Masterson takes a moment to point out two more of his particular favorites: a weathered, black Silvertone that was his first electric guitar, and a Martin D-28M The Mamas and the Papas Custom Artist limited-edition acoustic. He bought the latter as a wedding present for his wife, actress Bijou Phillips. The headstock boasts a mother-of-pearl silhouette inlay of the band, which includes her father, John Phillips.

This is an excerpt from the all-new September/October 2013 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story, plus features on Paul Allen, Mike Bloomfield, and Chet Atkins’ experimental Gretsch, head to the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.

  • Sounds like a dream studio,Danny your multi talented rock on!