BY GREG OLWELL | FROM THE SPRING 2019 ISSUE OF UKULELE
The worlds of electric guitars and electric basses are filled with instruments co-designed with artist input and featuring a unique blend of components that, taken together, form a personalized statement. These instruments often have unique—or downright quirky—features that can give them a limited appeal. While the ukulele world is much less artist-driven, Fender saw a chance to work with young star Grace VanderWaal to create a pair of signature ukuleles to reach not only her many fans, but also players who want a smartly appointed instrument with good features at an attractive price.
One, the Fender Grace VanderWaal Moonlight, is a soprano finished in a gorgeous shade of cobalt blue, while the concert-sized Signature has a dark walnut-colored stain. Both share elements that unify them as her signature ukes, including a gold sparkle rosette, cream binding around the top and back of the body and the fingerboard, gold tuners, a no-tie bridge that makes changing strings easy, and of course, Fender’s classic Telecaster-style headstock. Both instruments also feature Grace’s signature on the back of the headstock and a unique label inside.
While Grace uses the larger Signature uke for performances, she wanted the Moonlight to match her sense of style and also appeal to her fans, who skew towards the young and fashionable.
Sharp-eyed Fender uke fans might notice that the Moonlight is similar to Fender’s Seaside soprano ukulele, though the Moonlight has a solid color finish compared to the Seaside’s dark stain. As she says in the feature (on p. 32 of the Spring issue), Grace wanted the Moonlight to look pretty, and indeed, the satin finish is intoxicating, collecting votes of approval from everyone—and showing off fingerprints in equal measure. The bridge is a nice touch that will make string changes easy, not just for beginners, but for anyone who might prefer to just tie a knot at one end of the string and secure it to the bridge. And, the strap button is an unusual touch on a soprano, but probably welcome for some of the smaller-sized players bound to be drawn to this instrument.
Like similar ukes in this price range, the Moonlight has a comfortable setup, though the fret ends could be smoother, and a shapely neck that was comfortable. The tone leans toward a strong mid- and high-range emphasis and suits the accessible price. As one player strummed a verse of “Ain’t She Sweet,” he commented that it sounded like an old uke coming through a Victrola. As a player’s first ukulele or one that you could toss in a bag for a weekend getaway, the Moonlight soprano is a decent ukulele that looks great for its price.
The larger Signature is made to be stage-ready, and with its elegant appointments it’ll look equally good at an open-mic as it will on a club stage—or playing in front of a mirror at home. Like the smaller Moonlight uke, the Signature has a laminated body, which produces a reliably warm, not-too-big-not-too-small tone that fits just right for anyone who wants a ukulele they can take anywhere. The Signature, however, has a more substantial feel and greater weight, partly because of the electronics and partly because of its size.
The electronics come courtesy of Fishman and the onboard preamp includes a built-in chromatic tuner and controls for volume, bass, mid, and treble. I played the uke through a Genzler Acoustic Array Mini and a Henriksen the Bud amps and was impressed with the Signature’s natural-sounding tone and lack of feedback—even when I tried soliciting it with high volumes.
The Signature also comes with another player-friendly add-on—a three-month subscription to Fender’s online lessons. When added with a padded gig bag and pickup, the GVW Signature is a great value for an emerging performer and songwriter or anyone looking for a handsome instrument at an affordable price.
Grace VanderWaal Moonlight
Body Laminated mahogany body; fan bracing; gold sparkle rosette; cream binding, front and back; satin navy blue finish
Neck 13.6″ soprano-scale nato neck; 16-fret walnut fingerboard with cream binding and dot inlays; 1.375″ nut; gold open-geared tuners; satin navy blue finish
Other Bone nut and saddle; walnut bridge; Fender California Coast clear nylon strings (.024, .032, .034, .028)
Made in China
Price $99 (street)
Grace VanderWaal SIGNATURE CONCERT
Body Concert ukulele with laminated sapele body; fan bracing; gold sparkle rosette; cream binding, front and back; gloss polyurethane dark walnut finish
Neck 15″ concert-scale nato neck; 16-fret walnut fingerboard with cream binding and dot inlays; 1.375″ nut; vintage-style gold closed-geared tuners; gloss finish
Electronics Fishman Kula preamp with Sonicore undersaddle pickup
Other Bone nut and saddle; walnut bridge; Fender California Coast clear nylon strings (.028, .0322, .0403, .028); Grace signature padded gig bag; three-month subscription to Fender Play
Made in Indonesia
Price $199 (street)