Noted musician Hugh Masterson moonlights as a skilled woodworker. He crafts cabinets, media consoles, and custom record boxes that look like vintage speakers. Masterson is a versatile creative, who touts a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a focus on ceramics; a Midwestern upbringing; and the ability to write colorful, contemplative songs.
“I’ve always needed to be doing my own thing and be doing stuff with my hands, stuff that’s a little bit closer to nature,” he says. Masterson had plenty of opportunities to do so growing up in Butternut, Wisconsin, a town with a population in the hundreds, where a lot of the industry revolves around timber. “My dad worked at a paper mill, and we grew up with a bunch of land, and were always in the woods,” he says. Butternut’s remoteness did two things for Masterson: forced him to tap in to his own creativity for entertainment and invited him to harness the wilderness for inspiration.
In addition to working on his own side projects, Masterson builds custom cabinetry with Chad Davis of WoodTones. He’s also worked on custom designs for fellow performers Robyn Hitchcock, Margo Price, JD McPherson, and Nikki Lane, among others. A social media post made his record boxes an instant hit, and he can barely keep up with the demand. “It doesn’t ever seem like I have enough time to make a whole bunch of those,” Masterson says. “Whenever I get a little bit ahead with woodworking, then, I have to go back to music and start recording, or writing, or get back out and do a tour. I’ve gotta feed both things.”
Masterson doesn’t use computers, opting to hand draw everything instead. He visits with clients at home, taking time to understand their vision. “Everybody has a purpose for what they want, and obviously aesthetic is one of them, but functionality is also another,” he says. Masterson works with clients to determine wood type, finish, and color, modifying along the way. Generally, he works with maple for face frames and maple ply for sides and shelving, but some clients choose oak for the grain.
When he’s not constructing built-ins and mantle covers, Masterson stays busy gigging shows in support of his first solo effort, Lost + Found. The title track was inspired by a mugging incident in Milwaukee, where Masterson was hit in the head with a tire iron, causing a dual jaw break. “Whatever I go through, I try to make something positive out of it—whether it’s focusing on art, whether it’s ceramics or woodworking, or if it’s sitting down and writing and letting go of something,” he says. (hughmastersonmusic.com)