In memoriam: Zig Kanstul

Zigmant J. Kanstul (1929-2016)

Zigmant J. Kanstul, founder and President of Kanstul Musical Instruments died in Anaheim, California following a short but quickly debilitating illness at the age of 87.

Kanstul was born in Minnesota and joined the United States Air Force, stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. Following his discharge from the service, he worked as a musical instrument repairman in Kansas. He moved to Los Angeles, California in 1952 and was employed as a French horn maker by the firm F.E. Olds and Son, Inc. He remained with Olds for nearly twenty years, during which time he became intimately conversant with every phase of brass instrument production.

Soon after his employment at Olds, the Vice-President General Manger, Foster A. Reynold, perceived the potential Kanstul offered, and personally mentored him for the next eight years until Reynolds’ death in 1960. Kanstul assumed many of the duties held by Mr. Reynolds, and essentially managed production for the entire Olds facility. Changes in management at Chicago Musical Instrument Company, the parent firm of Olds, resulted in Kanstul resigning his position in 1970. The Olds firm permanently ceased operations in 1979.

During his early years at Olds, Kanstul worked in the evenings for Elden Benge, maker of Benge trumpets, in Burbank, California. With Olds, Zig Kanstul learned management skills required for a large-scale manufacturer. With Benge, he became trained to function within a small, boutique firm. With mentors such as Foster Reynold and Elden Benge, Kanstul mastered all elements of brass instrument manufacturing.

Following his departure from Olds, Kanstul worked in upper management roles for the Benge Company, H.N. White (the King Company), and C.G. Conn. In 1982, Kanstul established the Kanstul Musical Instrument Company, first in Fullerton, California, and later in Anaheim. Kanstul traced his professional genealogy to the legendary makers Foster Reynolds, James W. York, Henry Esbach, Louis Hartman, J. Lathrop Allen, Isaac Fiske, Thomas D. Paine, Elbridge G. Wright, and Samuel Graves, Jr. This unbroken lineage, dating to Graves in the early 1800s, established Zig Kanstul as the only descendant of the great American makers.

With the death of Kanstul, ownership of the firm passed to his three sons, Zig, Jr., Jack and Mark. The latter two sons were trained by Zig in all phases of brass production, and manage sales and manufacturing, respectively. All tooling, specifications, and data describing hundreds of brass musical instruments remains intact, and production continues even in the absence of the founder.

In January, 2017, R. Dale Olson published the book, “Zig Kanstul: Last of the Great Masters.” Historian/Restorer Robb Stewart served as editor, with a foreword by Arturo Sandoval.A memorial was held on November 13, 2016 at the Kanstul factory, at which time many of Kanstul’s former associates performed and recounted the impressive career of Zig Kanstul.

Sources: Jack Kanstul and Scott Birdsall

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