2024’s Best: Franz Hoffmann Violin & Viola Outfit Review

by | Oct 22, 2021

Overview

Shar Franz Hoffmann beginner violin and viola outfitShar Franz Hoffmann beginner violin and viola outfitThe deluxe Franz Hoffmann beginner violin and viola outfits Shar has put together are the best around – best bang for the buck and best quality for the dollar. The instruments are solid. Many of my students use them; they like them; and I like them. The bows and cases are also standard for beginner instruments. But what makes these outfits better than what their competitors offer is all the other items in the outfits. Everything from the pencil to the actual, real, tuner-metronome shows a deeper understanding of what students really need when learning a bowed string instrument – plus they still give you the superfluous practice mute like everyone else does.

Shar also offers you the option to buy their Franz Hoffmann beginner violins and violas as stand-alone instruments or in simpler outfits with just the bow, case and instrument. The stand-alone instruments are great if you just want to upgrade (or replace!) your instrument without changing sizes. The simple outfits are perfect for people who are moving up in size and who either don’t need the extra goods or want a better quality shoulder rest and metronome.Shar Franz Hoffmann beginner violin and viola outfit

The Franz Hoffmann Violins and Violas

I personally own and use the Franz Hoffmann Concert violin while many of my students use or have used other instruments in their beginner violin and viola lines. Having played on all of these instruments, they have an acceptable and smooth quality of tone. This is important for the beginner violinist and violist because getting something like good tone out of a violin or viola is one of the hardest things to learn to do. The instrument should sound bad because the student’s technique is not right, not because the instrument sounds bad. This feedback is necessary to help the student and teacher know how the player’s technique is doing.

Another important quality in a beginner violin or viola is that the instrument can reliably be played in tune. This means that the fingerboard is well planed and has the proper curvature. When I first got my Franz Hoffmann Concert violin and started playing on it, straight away I was able to play in tune relying purely on my own muscle memory in first through third positions. This is just what the beginner violinist needs and just what Shar provides. I won’t claim that Shar does this well enough on its beginner instruments to make my luthier happy – getting a fingerboard that well set up takes an extra amount of time, care and skill (= money) than Shar (or any other retailer) can afford and still keep its prices down. But Shar’s Franz Hoffmann instruments do meet the beginner’s needs, which is far more than I can say for cheaper brands often found on Amazon.

Shar also carves bridges to fit each instrument it sells, even their cheapest model of violins. This is crucial to making sure the string heights are correct and ensuring that the sound quality of the instrument is preserved. Many cheaper brands found on Amazon do not take this extra step, and students end up paying for it with their fingers.

The Bows

The bows that Shar provides with its Franz Hoffmann beginner violin and viola outfits are all that brand-new and early beginners need to make their start. Advanced beginners, however, will need a nicer bow ($200-$300), if you can (as is true of the beginner outfits offered by other companies).

Shar’s bows are all wood bows instead of fiberglass or carbon fiber. The up-side to this is that wood bows tend to get better tone from the violin than do synthetic bows. Wood bows also ensure more value is put into the violin or viola relative to some of Shar’s competitors who include $70 carbon fiber bows in their outfits. The chief downside to wood bows, however, is that they are more breakable when in the hands of kids. Shar’s wood bows are also made from pernambucco, which is not the best given pernambucco’s endangered status.

The Case

The Toshira case is surprisingly good for how cheap it is. I’ve been using one for over two years and have had no issues with it (that are worth complaining about for the price). It is still fully in-tact, it has protected the instrument and bows, and it holds the basic stuff I need it to hold. Violists and people purchasing fractional-sized violins may run into an issue with the shoulder rest not fitting inside the case. Not bad for a $35 case.

The Other Stuff

Shar gives you two options in their beginner Franz Hoffmann outfits: buy the basic outfit that has the bow, instrument and case, or spend $20 to $30 more and get a whole ton of other stuff. What the deluxe outfit comes with is an absolute deal compared to if you bought everything by itself. The deluxe outfit also really shows that Shar knows what student musicians need to make a strong start. I’m generally not a fan of extra stuff in beginner violin and viola outfits; but, compared to everybody else’s extra stuff, Shar does it way better in their Franz Hoffmann outfits. The only drawback is that they give you a sponge shoulder rest for the child-sized violins and violas, which you will want to replace.

List of Items

Pencil – $0.89

First things first, they include a pencil. This is how you know the people at Shar are real musicians who are clued into what real musicians need. A pencil should always be on your music stand. ‘nough said.

Empire Shoulder Rest or Xeroes Sponge – $10

The shoulder rests in these outfits are not the best, but still on par with what most other companies offer. Expect to have to replace them after about a year of use. If you are up for spending an extra $25-$35, Kun and Mach One both make good shoulder rests for most (if not all) instrument sizes. You can also buy an Empire shoulder rest for child-sized instruments.

Shar mini rosin – $2

Whether large or small, cheap or expensive, the rosin block is going to end up broken or lost, anyways. Here, Shar gives you what you need and not any more than that.

Metronome-tuner – $15

Shar is the only company offering a tuner-metronome in its outfits and I love it. This is easily the best item in the outfit and really shows Shar’s understanding of what students need to learn an instrument (as if the pencil wasn’t enough). That said, this is not the best tuner-metronome. The tuner and metronome work fine and do the job. The trouble is that, once the original batteries die, you will likely not be able to fit new ones into this metronome as it is literally just 0.5 mm too short in the battery compartment (yeah, I measured it). Still, it is one of the biggest things I ask parents to buy that many don’t. My students who have a dedicated tuner-metronome instead of using apps on the phone always have an easier go of things (not that phone apps don’t have their place). So I am glad Shar is giving you one from the start. Of other companies, some only give you clip-on tuners that are of modest quality and more difficult for the beginner to use while others give you nothing at all in this department.

Dampit or Humidi Guard – $12 or $10

Another item that is unique to Shar’s outfit, the Dampit and Humidi Guards are useful in dry environments. The Dampit/Humidi Guard works by soaking it in water (then drying it off) and placing it inside the body of the instrument. From there, it keeps the wood comfortably humidified so that it won’t split. Handy if you live in a dessert or in an area that requires a fair amount of heating during the winter, especially if you don’t normally humidify your home.

Shar microfiber cleaning cloth – $4

Standard in many outfits. Personally, I wish they didn’t include it. It’s nice to have; but an old handkerchief, wash cloth, spare microfiber cloth you already have, or even a sock that has lost it’s friend (everybody has one of those) will do just fine for wiping down the strings and top of the violin or viola.

PinkyHold – $5

I’m not sure what to say about this little guy. The PinkyHold is meant to help the beginner train their pinky to stay on the bow. However, I don’t use things like this in my teaching and I suspect most teachers don’t. It is a thoughtful inclusion from Shar, but one of the few items that could probably be left out.

Practice Mute – $4

Another standard among Shar’s competitors that Shar includes, too.

Fingering Tape – $2

Another thoughtful item unique to Shar’s outfits. I suspect this one is more for the orchestra teachers than students taking private lessons since most private teachers have their own tape go-to and orchestra teachers, well, don’t get paid to buy tape for 60 instruments…

Conclusion

There you have it! Shar Music’s Franz Hoffmann Violin and Viola outfits are a worthy purchase. In my estimate, they are better than their competitors in how they put together their outfit. Shar’s competitors tend to include things that you don’t need or things that are nicer than you might want to pay for in an outfit. For example, Bunnel will include a book or an extra set of strings while Fiddlershop includes a $23 shoulder rest. Shar gives you all of the goods, none of the fat. And if you don’t want all of the goods, they have you covered, there, too.

Updated January 8th, 2023

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