Ron McMaster, Capitol Studios’ renowned vinyl mastering engineer, has announced his retirement at the age of 69.
McMaster revealed his plans to Variety on the eve of invitations going out for a 12 July retirement party in the Capitol Tower that promises to draw iconic names that usually appear higher in the album credits than his own. A favorite of producers like Don Was and T-Bone Burnett, he has cut LPs for The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Radiohead and virtually the entire vintage Blue Note catalog.
In the basement of a building shaped to resemble a stack of vinyl, Ron McMaster has mastered CDs as well as LPs for 38 years. But it’s vinyl he’s most associated with, and that medium’s wild resurgence over the last decade has turned him into something of a cult figure among collectors as well as the producers and artists who value his touch at the vintage record-cutting lathe that sits alongside his console.
“The fact that [vinyl] is still strong blows my mind,” McMaster told Variety. “It makes me real happy. I never thought it would be ending like this, for me.”
In the early 2000s, LPs were just starting to make a comeback, but the prevailing winds still seemed to be leading him out the door. “There was a time when it slowed down quite a bit, and I was almost going to retire then,” he says, “just because I felt like the digital world and the different things that were coming up weren’t really my bag. And then all of a sudden vinyl exploded, and I became the only one around here in this building that could do it. I still had the lathe here, so then I became extremely busy, busy enough where we brought the other lathe that used to be next door out of storage. Someone hooked it up, and then I trained him how to operate it, and now he’s cutting full-time, too.”
It was the full-time part that got to McMaster, a little shy of four decades into his tenure in the subterranean studio. “I just couldn’t take the workload demand. I’m 69 years old, going on 70. I can only do this for so much longer, because I actually do about two to three albums per day and ship them out of here, which is quite a bit of work. And the company loves it, but I get real tired after five days straight of doing that. I go home and rest and I found I just don’t bounce back as quick as I used to.”
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Ron McMaster was a name best known to jazz buffs, because he was the go-to guy for the Blue Note label, whose vinyl re-releases continued to find a thirsty audience even as LPs fell out of favour in the rock and pop worlds.
This century, while continuing to work on jazz reissues, he’s mastered or remastered vinyl versions of well-known works by the Beach Boys (Pet Sounds), Radiohead (Kid A), Frank Sinatra (Only The Lonely) and George Harrison (the recent Dark Horse boxed set) as well as working on new projects like T Bone Burnett’s Hunger Games soundtrack and Robert Plant/Allison Krauss collaboration. Last year, Blue Note head Don Was got him to master a very non-jazz-related project he was producing, the Rolling Stones’ Blue and Lonesome.
Ron McMaster even became his own client a few years ago, cutting the vinyl for Jack White’s Third Man label on a release of a psych-rock album, Gotta Survive, that he and his Sacramento-based psych-rock band, Public Nuisance, recorded but had shelved back in the late 1960s.
McMaster doesn’t plan on exiting the business altogether after he clears out the last of his things at the end of July. “My goal is just to kind of slow it down a little bit, and still stay in touch, and if I can help people out, I’m more than happy to,” he says.
He’ll miss the tower, he says. “Capitol’s a very interesting place to work,” he tells Variety. “It’s like this little family; you can come back. I still have people that come back in to that used to work here in the late ‘80s or the ‘90s that I knew, and you just pick up where you left off. It’s different from a lot of places. It’s not the same as ‘I worked at Macy’s for 35 years.’”
Explore Our Beach Boys Artist Page.