With its fabulous look, smooth playability and powerful amplified tone players of all types may be interested in the Dhani Harrison Ukulele.
Powerful amplified sound
Good gig bag
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Fender continues to expand its line of unique ukes for the Artist Signature Series, and this time they got a little help from a fab friend. Dhani Harrison has worked with an expansive range of artists, from Wu-Tang to Jeff Lynne (who did a bit of Traveling with Harrison’s Wilbury papa, who was himself in an influential band from Liverpool).
Dhani Harrison has impressive ukulele chops, and, like a lot of guitar players, he finds the uke is a handy writing tool. He enlisted Fender to develop a signature model well-suited to the stage.
Harrison drew inspiration from Kamaka Ukulele of Hawaii, saying, “No two are the same, and each handmade individual is off the charts. My model is mass produced, so we asked ourselves, What is the highest level of mass production we can achieve?” The result is a tenor of three-quarter depth, with a solid top, onboard electronics and one-of-a-kind aesthetics.
Well, actually two of a kind. The Dhani Harrison Signature comes in two cool hues: Sapphire Blue Transparent (pictured) and Turquoise. Each has distinctive fretboard inlays – moon phases on the Turquoise, and what looks like a puff of smoke for the Sapphire’s main inlay – and Shiva Yantra engravings on the back.
We love turquoise and anything celestial, so were about to request the Turquoise model when we noticed the mystical engraving on the Sapphire’s back and went that way. To us, it resembles the distinctive Harrison brow, with wide eyes and bushy eyebrows, plus a cosmic third eye and a snake-like nose. Regarding the Shiva designs, Harrison remarks, “I just tried to think of something that I would want to look at every day for the rest of my life.”
This ukulele has a full, bound neck that feels familiar in hands accustomed to acoustic guitars. The build is light but sturdy, with detailed craftsmanship. Playability is smooth and easy across the walnut fretboard, which offers plenty of space for fingerpicking and forming chords. Linear licks flow freely with strong note definition. The intonation is great until about the ninth fret, when it starts to fall flat, like a lot of ukes.
Playability is practical until the neck meets the body at the 14th fret. The fretboard seems to go on longer than one expects, and we suppose there are two reasons: First, the instrument’s thinner body makes it seem smaller than it actually is. The tenor is the third largest of the four main ukulele body types. “It’s the ukulele by which the standard is set,” Harrison says. Second, the scale length on his signature model is 17 inches, compared to, say, the 15-inch scale of Fender’s concert-sized Fullerton Jazzmaster, which by contrast seems larger because of its unique body shape.
The Dhani Harrison Signature’s particular characteristics combine to create a unique tone. Its solid ovangkol top, combined with laminated ovangkol back and sides at three-quarter depth on a tenor platform, add up to a sound that has the presence of a concert or soprano and the greater string energy of a tenor. This uke has plenty of pop, projection and volume. Harrison says, “Ovangkol is a fantastic wood that was the nearest thing we could get to Hawaiian koa, which is too scarce for mass production.”
The tone is clear, with a quick attack and a rather sharp decay as well. This uke’s dry acoustic tone is a little plinky compared to its more resonant amplified tone, which sounded surprisingly powerful, if not perfectly pristine, through an Acoustic Junior GO. Asked about its “upgraded electronics,” Harrison says, “I just kept telling them to upgrade: make it better, smaller and better and lighter. We pushed the limits of how big it could be for the best acoustic sound, but not too thick like a lot of others that would just feedback onstage.”
Players of all sorts and skill levels, and especially live performers, may be interested in the Dhani Harrison Signature. Those on the hunt for a warm, fuzzy-sounding acoustic uke to take to the beach might want to check out one of Fender’s many full-bodied models, but the articulate acoustic-electric Dhani Harrison Signature, with its fabulous look, smooth playability and powerful amplified tone, earns an Editors’ Pick for being super stageworthy at an accessible price.
Jimmy Leslie has been Frets editor since 2016. See many Guitar Player- and Frets-related videos on his YouTube channel (opens in new tab), and learn about his acoustic/electric rock group at spirithustler.com (opens in new tab).
By Art Thompson