Music Makers: Kegg Pipe Organ Builders

Charles Kegg’s musical legacy can be heard on any given Sunday morning in churches throughout Stark County and beyond.

Charles Kegg’s musical legacy can be heard on any given Sunday morning in churches throughout Stark County and beyond.

Kegg doesn’t play (at least not publicly) the pipe organs, whose full and rich sound can stir the souls of the worshippers.

He builds them.

As owner and president of Kegg Pipe Organ Builders in Hartville, Kegg and his six employees have built 52 pipe organs that have been installed across the nation, from California to Texas to Wisconsin and New Jersey. The company, which is located at 1184 Woodland Street SW, has built eight pipe organs in Stark County. It has helped repair, restore and improve dozens of other organs.

“We build them one at a time,” Kegg said. “It gets all of our attention until it gets done.”

Kegg’s fascination with organs began at age 11 when he witnessed the Canton Palace Theatre’s Kilgen Organ rise from the orchestra pit in 1968.

“I was mesmerized by this device,” recalled Kegg, who would go on to fully restore the instrument 25 years later.

By age 13, Kegg had his own nine-rank pipe organ in his basement.

At age 29, Kegg, who had trained for 11 years at other pipe-building companies, incorporated his own company. He went on his own full time in 1990.

Among his first projects were organs for the St. Anthony/All Saints Parish in southeast Canton and the First Baptist Church of Canton. As the company grew and added employees, Kegg took on larger projects, such as the 78-rank pipe organ at Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Canton in 2004.

In 2006, Kegg completed a 69-rank organ with 4,003 pipes for the Texas A&M International University’s performing arts center. Unlike church organs, Kegg was challenged with making an organ dynamic enough that it could be used for teaching, practice, recital and with an orchestra.

“A pipe organ is not a catalog item,” said Kegg, now 59. “They are all custom built.”

For Kegg, designing an organ is more than just building a quality sounding machine that will last for decades. He wants the piece to feel as though it has lived in the church forever.

“I always try to echo the architectural details (of the building),” Kegg said.

For a church in Eureka, California, Kegg not only used native California redwood for an organ’s center case to match the church’s interior, he also aged the wood to give it the same rugged appearance of the church that was built in 1939.

Building an average sized organ by hand can take the company between six to eight months. Workers then disassemble and transport the organ to its new home, where it takes about a week to install. Kegg said the work isn’t done until they adjust the sound of the organ so that it feels balanced in its new acoustical environment.

“The organs speak for me and will after I am gone,” he said. “I want everything to be perfect.”