I’ve been a watcher on the Mandolin Café for some time now, but this is my maiden post.
I recently acquired a new Hoffee Carbon Fiber teardrop-shaped mandolin case, and given all that’s come before in this thread, I thought I’d write a review about it, including some pictures showing various details (these are cell-phone photos, so the resolution isn’t fabulous, but they suffice for my purpose). This case is, arguably, one of the very finest – if not THE finest – now available for an A- or F-model mandolin.
Overall, my experience with Jeff Hoffee and his company has been extremely positive, and I was impressed by his responding personally (and very quickly) to all my emails, and also by the level of detail represented in his many responses. Before committing to a purchase, I asked, and he answered, a whole lot of questions! Encouraged by what I’d read, I eventually decided to commit and I ordered a custom case in mid-March of this year, with an anticipated build schedule of around three weeks, plus an additional week for shipping out to California. However, I received a message from Jeff about three weeks later, telling me that he’d run out of stock on the gold plush fabric that I’d requested for the case lining. He offered to line the case in another color of fabric, or he told me that it would otherwise take another 3 to 4 weeks for my original color choice to arrive. I elected to wait a bit longer, since I wanted this to be something special, and I didn’t really need the case until some trips planned for June. To compensate me for the trouble associated with this unforeseen delay, however, Jeff Hoffee agreed to throw in the Thinsulite™ lining option for my case, which goes (invisibly) between the shell and the foam lining (this is an extra insulation option, and it normally costs an additional $75 or so). How’s THAT for customer service?! I was happy to wait. And, true to his word, the case was eventually completed and shipped on May 25, arriving by FedEx ground service on June 1. So it was about eleven weeks from start to finish, even with the delay. I was surprised that I wasn't even asked to place a down-payment on this custom case when I first ordered it (although I was prepared to do so). Instead, I paid for it, in full, on the day that it was shipped, using PayPal. My bottom-line expense came to $790, including the shipping costs.
The case arrived with simply SUPERB packaging: it came inside an inner cardboard carton that was fully suspended in an outer cardboard carton. I saved these materials for the future, to ship a mandolin in someday! The case itself was also wrapped in a thin foam sheet for a third level of protection. It was spotless. However, it initially smelled a little (but only a little), probably from the adhesives that were used and still curing a bit, but airing the open case out for just a day took care entirely of that minor issue. To put this in perspective, I have a Golden Gate fiberglass case that’s two years old which still smells, and also an American Case hard-foam case that smells, despite numerous attempts to eliminate these odors. When I open my case, I only want to smell --- wooden mandolin!
I had decided to take a chance with the color scheme that I ordered. Rather than go with, say, a more traditional choice of a silver/grey or perhaps a dark blue exterior with a green or blue plush lining (call this a ‘cool’ color scheme), I had decided to go with a red exterior and a gold plush lining (call this a ‘warm’ color scheme). The reason I had worried was that I certainly didn’t want to wind up with some bright-red case with a vivid yellow lining: yikes, that would have looked incredibly garish! I shouldn’t have worried, though. In fact, the darkness of the grey carbon fiber cloth mutes the red color (in the Kevlar) so that the result is a much darker, almost wine-colored (burgundy) red. Very tasteful. And the “gold” plush fabric lining that Jeff Hoffee selected isn’t some bright yellow, but quite a bit more brownish, similar to the amber color of the coat of a Golden Retriever dog. Together, these ‘red’ and ‘gold’ colors go together beautifully, and I couldn’t be happier with my color choices. It was certainly worth it to wait the extra time.
Note to readers: This review was too long for a single post, so I'm breaking it up into two halves. I will try to post the second half of this review separately, immediately following this.
A Review of the Hoffee Carbon Fiber case, Part II
continued from previous post....
I already own a Calton fiberglass mandolin case, so I thought I’d offer some direct comparisons, for those who are interested.
Case exterior: The teardrop shapes of the Hoffee and the Calton cases are quite similar, overall. There can be little doubt that the Hoffee design was influenced by the Calton (while addressing some of its drawbacks, see below). The Hoffee case shape is a bit more rounded, though, and looks a bit like an oversized jelly bean. Being made of carbon fiber and not fiberglass, it just a tad lighter with a mandolin in it, but I don’t happen to think that difference is very significant. The lengths of the two cases are nearly identical at 30.5”, which is the most relevant distance when considering overhead storage on an aircraft. Their widths (at maximum) are also similar, and I measured 12” for the Calton and 13” for the Hoffee. In making this determination, I included the extra distance subtended by the bumper feet on the two cases, but I did not include any extra width associated with the handles. As to overall depth, I measured 5.5” for the Calton and 7” for the Hoffee (again, including the feet). So the Hoffee case is just a bit bigger in its maximum dimensions, but not a lot.
The Hoffee case uses oversized black rubber (elastomer) feet, and these are larger and far more compressible than the hard black feet found in the Calton case. I prefer the Hoffee feet. There are 8 feet found on the Hoffee case: 4 to rest on while it’s situated horizontally, and 4 more for when it’s placed on its side (with the handle up). The Hoffee case, however, lacks any rubber foot on its very bottom (unlike the Calton!), which serves to protect the bottom latch if the case is ever stood up vertically on its bottom end, or if it gets compressed against a barrier on that end. I think this is a minor failing.
Case interior: Inside, however, is a different story! Here, the Hoffee case really shines, and it seems to have addressed many of the ‘issues’ reported for Caltons. The padding is ample all around (about an inch, even in the areas where the F5 points are located). Both cases seem to use the same crushed-velvet lining fabric, and both employ a time-test and excellent “suspension” system to float the mandolin, making contact over the tailpiece area with a pad that comes down from the lid, and supporting the neck-body junction with a pad underneath, followed by additional support along the entire neck. The most significant improvements made in the Hoffee case, in my view, are found in the headstock region. The Hoffee case is significantly wider at the top, and lateral clearance on the inside is much greater than in the Calton case, reducing fears that a side blow to the case exterior might knock off the F5 scroll inside (see Pete Martin’s profile picture for an example). Also, the headstock is supported fully by padding on its underside (no need to put a sock or bubble wrap there!), as well as by a pad that comes down from the top of the case to sandwich it in on both sides, reducing fears of whiplash-type injury inside the case. The neck is fully supported by a soft pad, just as in the Calton case, which lifts up with a tag to reveal a compartment for storage. However, the Hoffee compartment is much deeper than in the Calton, and this makes a big difference to me. Inside the generous Hoffee case, I’m able to store at least three sets of strings, all my picks, a polishing cloth, some extra coin-cell batteries, a truss rod tool, PLUS two electronic tuners, including a red Snark and an Intellitouch PT-1! The compartment of my Calton case, by contrast, is too shallow to fit my Snark tuner inside. By the way, I have a Tone-Gard from Tony Pires on my F5 mandolin and it fits into the case easily on the mandolin, since the foam padding is very compressible, with a lot of give. I tried this case with a Weber F5, a Pomeroy F5 (see pictures), a Northfield F5, and so on: they all fit without issues.
Hardware. Both my Calton and Hoffee cases have three latches (in very similar places) attached by rivets, D-rings and a shoulder strap with swivel hook attachments, and the heavy-duty hardware seems fairly rugged all around. On the Hoffee, all three of these latches can be locked. However, the hardware on the Hoffee was painted black (I’m not very sure how long this paint will last before it flakes off, which it does fairly easily, and it has already started to do so in tiny spots; see the photo). This same paint also made it very hard to insert the keys into the lock keyways. I eventually got the keys in and the locks to turn and work, but it was quite a struggle, and they still don’t operate very smoothly at all. Also, when in the locked position, the latch tabs protrude outwards just a bit, too, which I don’t like. There’s clearly some room for future improvement, here. That said, I seldom plan to use the locks, anyway. They’re mainly to keep the latches from accidentally being opened accidentally by others who might handle the case. However, these days, you can’t routinely lock them down anyway, if you’re going to be forced to check the case on a flight (which I hope to avoid, anyway, by bringing my case with me onboard whenever possible!) because TSA opens bags for inspection and wants these to be unlocked.
Strength and Seals: Both these cases are incredibly strong! I can stand on either my Calton or Hoffee case without fear of crushing my mandolin, and I weigh close to 200 lbs. The strength of carbon-fiber is legendary, of course. Both cases have very similar, tongue-in-groove watertight seals made of a black rubberized material all around the perimeter of the lid, which is a plus when you’re caught out in the rain with your case. The seal of the Calton case, however, is cut away slightly in the regions where it passes by the three latches on the lid. The latches on the Hoffee case, however, are situated so that this seal doesn’t need to be cut anywhere: it runs all the way around, uninterrupted. Another improvement. I would also highly recommend the Thinsulite lining option, if you’re worried about your case being left too long under the summer sun in the trunk of someone’s car, or out on the tarmac before being loaded into a waiting aircraft. That should buy you some precious extra time before the hide glue joints of your instrument begin to melt!
Bottom line: This is certainly not an inexpensive case: in fact, it’s one of the more costly cases you can buy these days. However, it’s by no means the most expensive! If you’re just looking for the status conferred by that sort of thing, then you might enjoy going to http://www.calderoriginals.com and seeing what they offer, for prices that start at several thousands of dollars! The Hoffee Carbon Fiber case, however, is a simply first-rate product from a comparatively new company that (so far, and in my own personal experience) is providing just fabulous customer service and is innovating its design to address known issues with all the other mandolin cases. Let’s face it, $750 is a lot for a case, but it simply pales compared to the prices of the musical instruments that some Mandolin Café viewers are lucky enough to own, many of these made by well-known luthiers whom we’re always writing about! If you love your mandolin, and you travel and take it with you, and if your instrument is worth several thousand dollars, then you ought to spring for a top-of-the-line case -- and maybe some insurance, too? Anyway, I just got a Hoffee case, and I’m very happy with my purchase thus far. I may have more to report once it’s been on several trips planned for this summer, so stay tuned.
Awesome review and pictures--thanks!
Thanks for taking the time to post this excellent review. It really looks good if Jeff can get some better operating and fitting when closed latches and hardware with a more durable finish. The rivet heads are easy enough to touch up but the latches themselves are another matter. Is the the shell made of layers of carbon fiber cloth and Kevlar cloth(the Kevlar cloth being red)?
Thanks for sharing. I'm sold.
Yes, my understanding of this (which could be wrong; feel free to check with Jeff at Hoffee) is that carbon fiber itself is black and does not accept pigments or dyes, but that the fabric used to laminate these composite cases is a blend of Kevlar and carbon fiber, and the Kevlar and its surrounding matrix hold the color pigment. I also believe that, if you want a solid, uniform color of any kind, instead, Jeff can encapsulate the entire case in a colored resin of some sort (this is probably an epoxy). Doing so adds just a little to the weight of the case, obviously, so there's a trade-off involved. I myself opted for the lighter, and -- to me, visually stunning -- red carbon fiber composite. Hope that's helpful.
Certainly a superb looking case. I would be (am) seriously tempted, but right now, with exchange rates, shipping + import taxes just way, way expensive. I can get Calton (UK) cases for under $400.... by the time I got a Hoffee here it would be the equivalent of around $1100..... ouch.
Maybe one day.
Gibson F5 'Harvey' Fern
Gibson F5 'Derrington' Fern
Distressed Silverangel F 'Esmerelda' aka 'Maxx'
Jim Triggs 23 F5, Northfield Big Mon #127
Silverangel custom 'A'
'39 D-18, 1950 D-28.
Thanks again for the explanation sblock, weaving the two materials together in one cloth explains a lot in weight, strength, rigidity and impact resistance. In aerospace materials I'm familiar with of the past you had both materials but not combined in a single cloth. A little bit off topic here but are any of the cover makers using thinsolate in their case covers?
And I'm pretty sure you could get one made up as a custom job by one of the smaller case cover companies.
sblock - great review - thanks!
Those who think they should think, like they think others think they should think, need to think out their thinking, I think.
Here's another insulated case cover. http://coloradocase.com/caltonmandol...casecover.aspx
If I had the time I would have written the exact same review for my Hoffee case only I would have compared it to the Price case. So thanks for doing it for me! Great case.
I was on the fence about investing in one of these cases until yesterday. I was carrying my(new to me) F4 down to our local insurance office to get it on our coverage. I didn't have a bill of sale only a copy of the certified check used to purchase so proof of purchase was the reason I carried the instrument. I noticed the sound of it flopping around in the case as I walked and the gap at the case center gave me visions of a latch failure. Anyway all involved had fun with the way I carried the case like a new born infant. I think it took this for me to fully realize how badly I needed a new case. I contacted Jeff to start the ball rolling. During our discussion I mentioned my concern with the finish on the case hardware. Jeff told me the hardware finish is powder baked(not painted). Looking back at sblock's photo it appears the rivet heads are loosing the finish not the hardware. The important thing to me is the insulation and the care Jeff takes in fitting the case to the particular instruments neck configuration instead of one size fits all. The biggest hurdle I was facing was that look you get from your better half when they are straining to find a reason why you haven't gone completely mad. Well, this post is proof that I survived the look and am looking forward to the new crib.
Deciderius Erasmus "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King".
From sblock - "The strength of carbon-fiber is legendary, of course..". As a now retired carbon composite's design & manufacturing engineer,specialising in carbon/carbon-glass/carbon-kevlar composite designs,i can say that unfortunately it's CF's 'lack of strength' which is legendary. CF is strong in 'tension', in other modes it's pretty weak as the CF strands are very brittle. In the case of the Hoffee cases,it seems that they have 'got it right' by using the CF/Kevlar cloth.That's where the impact strength comes from. Carbon /Kevlar is pretty tuff stuff ( in most respects) if looked after.
The outer shiny surface is a Gel-coat resin,which in itself has little strength,that comes from the CF/Kevlar.The Gel-coat can be coloured by the introduction of coloured pigments,but you'll loose the CF 'look' & it'll look very similar to the Calton f/glass cases.
Apart from that - congratulations on your new case,but be careful with it,
Weber F-5 'Fern'.
Lebeda F-5 "Special".
Stelling Bellflower BANJO
Tanglewood TW-1000SR Guitar
Tokai - 'Tele-alike'.
I wanted to wake this thread back up with a Big thumbs up on my new Hoffee case. Mine looks flawless with blue exterior and interior. I also got the thermal protection with 3M Thinsulate. The record breaking temps here are beginning to make that option more and more important. Jeff custom fitted the interior to body tracings, neck/peghead dimension questionaire and photos of my 23 F4. He also did a jamup job of recontouring the storage compartment to fit the shorter neck without compartment area loss. The only negative is a slight loss of hardware black color. The black hardware looks so good as opposed to chrome that IMO it's worth the slight touch up that might be needed occasionally. I also recently purchased a like new used Pegasus case from Charles Johnson for my 06 F5 Goldrush. This is another fantastic case that is only .2 lbs heavier(me holding the cases on our house scales). Not sure how accurate that is but FWIW the Peg came in at 9.2 lbs. and the Hoffee came in at an even 9 lbs. If Pegasus can get it together with their glue failures they are in the same league as the Hoffee. So far this one hasn't had this problem. I have also heard some complain about the 6 hinges on the Peg but they are one hand latches that are easily opened and closed in sets of two so it takes no more time to latch or unlatch them than the Hoffee's 3 latches that require two hands each. Both of these cases are top quality cases that do a superb job of supporting and padding your instrument. Both have a lot of storage space and neck/peghead support. So far as strength or lack of it your guess is as good as mine but Hoffee has some guitar case destructive testing videos on UTube that are fun to watch. He throws them in a pond, out of a speeding car,off of a tall building and back on top of it with his mini van.
Deciderius Erasmus "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King".
Compared to the Hoffee and other options, I was also attracted by the customization in colors and linings. I figured if I was going to spend this much, then it might as well be little special.... the first case I've ever owned that wasn't black! And with a cool interior lining. I've been meaning to take some photos and post it here. I'll do that later on, in a separate thread with a Pegasus header so we don't derail the Hoffee conversation too much.
Yeah, that was the one thing that I wasn't thrilled with, when I first unpacked the shipping box and tried out the case and mandolin fit. Six latches seems like overkill. But as you said, it's easy to get into the routine of unlatching them in pairs, using both hands. It can be done very quickly with practice.I have also heard some complain about the 6 hinges on the Peg but they are one hand latches that are easily opened and closed in sets of two so it takes no more time to latch or unlatch them than the Hoffee's 3 latches that require two hands each.
I've had a Peg now for 3 years and have had no problem regarding the glue. It's great case.
"Take me back to 1953."
Gibson A Jr.
Glad to hear no more problems with Pegasus interior adhesive. I don't think you can go wrong with either case I really like them both. Two different designs as different as the F4 & F5 within them. I'm glad they don't all look alike. I really liked Jeff's first design and hope he continues it as well as the current one. See Hoffee Love thread for pictures, it looks kind of like the old Gibson shaped case with a more pronounced center stiffening ridge.
Deciderius Erasmus "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King".
My Hoffee arrived just yesterday. I commented over on this thread: http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...ghlight=Hoffee
Hank--coincidently mine is just like yours, blue/blue with thinsulate, although we don't have the heat here.