Moving on and it's a new ukulele from a brand that will automatically have people assuming that I am going to review it in the negative. This is the new Fender Dhani Harrison Ukulele.
The reason I went with that opening is that Got A Ukulele has had a name for itself in not really liking Fender ukuleles and people assume that means I dislike all of them out of hand. That's not fair. The important point here is that this does not mean Fender CANNOT make a good ukulele, rather it just means that of the various models I have played and reviewed, none have 'wowed' me and some have downright disappointed me. This new line up of two signature models taps at a connection with the ukulele world (Dhani is the son of George Harrison) that is either marketing genius or marketing cynicism depending which way you look at it. I am personally undecided, but it is worth noting that George didn't play Fender ukuleles. In fact Fender ukes didn't exist when he played so to me it would seem more appropriate for a Harrison family model to be made by a brand like Martin or even Kamaka. You know, ukes that George actually played. Or maybe I am being picky.. this is a Dhani model not a George. Oh, and to get it out of the way now - the fact I have not enjoyed Fender ukuleles thus far does not make me 'out to get Fender' as some have suggested. I've played Fender guitars all my life and have two electrics on their stands immediately to the right of where I am typing this. I love their guitars and sorely wish to love a ukulele from them. It just hasn't happened yet.
Moving on, as I say these are two new models from Fender made in collaboration with Dhani Harrison using stylings of his choosing very much in the 'mystic' vein that both Dhani and his father before him are so connected with. It comes it two colours, a darker 'Sapphire Blue' or this one in 'Turquoise'. The two models also have slightly different decor but otherwise the core construction is identical. That is to say this is a tenor scale ukulele with a painted solid ovangkol top and unpainted laminate ovangkol back and sides. It's traditionally double bout in shape and one feature I am rather taken with is the ¾ size depth to the sides giving it a 'close but not quite' thinline feel. On the whole I really do like the overall look and dimensions of the body. It's a diminutive little thing that I immediately warmed to. Unlike some other Fender models that are made in Indonesia, this one is made in China
The bridge is a slot style which I think looks too small for the body real estate, but will make for easy string changes. It's made of walnut and fitted with a straight topped bone saddle. Thankfully Fender seem to have dropped their naming of the bridge as a 'Fender No Tie Bridge' which always came across to me like they had invented something. No, they didn't invent the slot bridge... Spacing here is 41mm.
Decor differs model to model as I say, but with this one you have a paint coat on the top in pale turquoise. Some press shots I have seen of this model show that being semi-transparent, but it's most certainly a flat block of colour here and i'd prefer it wasn't if I am honest. Around the top and back edges is a strip of cream edge binding with black purfling and around the soundhole is an abalone ring edged in white. It's fairly tidy but there is some overpainting here and there and the inner soundhole edge is a mess, yet I think it hangs together well. On the back is a laser etching of a kind of mandala type pattern which...... I rather like. Yes.. me.. liking laser etching. <FAINTS>. I suppose because it's on the back and it isn't that sort of etching that shows the laser lines (rather it's tidy, thin cuts and very exact) that makes it work for me. I rather like it, despite not having a clue what it represents. (Answers on a postcard..). The body is then finished in a satin coat for protection and again, this seems well done.
Elsewhere on the body is my usual bugbear - an active pickup system with a chunky control panel, branded Fender and cut into the side. I dislike these at the best of times, but with that narrower body it seems to take over even more. OK, I get that they will get people plugging in with ease, but honestly... all you need is a passive.. less weight, less to go wrong, less cutting ugly holes in the uke. That pickup worries me on body balance too considering the skinny dimensions. I'd much rather they offered a model without one at all.
Inside is tidy, with regular bracing that is not overly fat and notched kerfing. I can't see much mess but I can see a heck of a lot of wiring!
The neck is made from Nato wood (a cheap choice it must be said) and is in two pieces only jointed at the heel. The joint at the heel is highly obvious but there is an attractive walnut heel cap. Thankfully it's finished in satin too but like all Fender ukuleles I have looked it it tapers to a really broom handle profile at the nut. It's almost square up there and highly uncomfortable for my hands. It's also only 35mm wide here and 27mm G to A which, coupled with the profile, is really not for me. Of course your mileage may vary.
It's topped with a walnut fingerboard which seems to be in good condition and is fairly even in colour. Down the sides it is bound in cream plastic which hide the ends and mean none of the 19 frets (joined at the 14th) are sharp. Parts of the binding are a bit scruffy though. The position markers on the turquoise model are styled around moon phases and face out at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 19th. The 12th comes with some extra decor either side to make it stand out. I think they are far too stark white and stand out against the cream binding though and think they'd look much better in that colour. And more oddly - they are only correctly orientated for the player looking down at their uke. Somebody looking at you playing would see and incorrect phasing. (How's that for Barry being picky?!!) Looking at them up close they are also really scruffy around the edges. Now I have noticed that they stand out to me for that reason. That's not picky, they are just scruffy.
Beyond the bone nut (incidentally a nut that is really square and sharp on the edges when playing first position - much the same as I found on the Fullerton Telecaster Ukulele. Ugh..) is the other part of all Fender ukulele reviews that people criticise me for and I then have to explain over and over. It's a Strat style headstock with inline tuners. Yes, I KNOW that people like to show off they have a Fender, and I KNOW that the inline strings mean less string angle out of the nut for tuning stability. But.. I just think they look really, really odd on ukuleles. I LOVE this headstock on my Stratocaster, but not on a ukulele. It's faced in the same colour as the body and holds the Fender logo 'spaghetti style' on the face.
Next is another gripe I've had with several Fender ukuleles - the tuner choice. These are vintage style, or more importantly 'guitar style' open gears in chrome with huge boxy cover plates. They look hideous on a uke and are far too big. They work ok though. Also on the back is the Dhani signature, but sadly more in keeping with the laser etching I don't like as it looks very grainy and rough.
Finishing off this package are a set of Aquila Nylgut strings and a really nice branded gig bag. I think this is the first Fender ukulele I have seen with a bag and it's good to see. What's not so good to see is the price which I found to be cynical too. This has an RRP of £229 in the UK. Whilst that may not seem an alarming price you need to consider the Fender Rincon ukulele. That too has a solid Ovangkol top, laminate back and sides, is a tenor, abalone, binding, and a better branded pickup than this one (Fishman). The Rincon has an RRP of £180. Even with discounting, whilst you can find this Dhani model at £200 if you shop around, you can equally find the Rincon for £150. They are essentially the same instrument. The difference? The name and decor. I suppose it depends if you think that is worth an extra £50. I'm afraid I don't.
Moving on. To hold it feels well made and as I say, I like the overall look. I don't like the neck but I do like how the overall dimensions work. It feels sturdy though and whilst you might not think 725g is heavy, it feels that way. And sure enough it IS very much body heavy. This comes as no surprise with all that electronic hardware stuck in there. The balance is all off. Add to the discomfort of the narrow neck (for my hands) and I didn't find it a comfortable ukulele to play.
Sound wise, like many other Fender ukuleles I have played, the volume seems muted and a touch strangled. I found myself having to really dig in to get it to project and can think of many other instruments that have more life to them. On the plus side, the sustain here is very good indeed.
Tonally though I found it only 'passable'. It has a bright sound, but is a touch on the thin side, particularly when strummed. It's not a terrible sound and some may even find it quite pretty, but it just seems to lack a characterful zing that other comparably priced instruments have. Fingerpicking is a touch more positive as it projects a clear chimey sound which is rather nice, but again - it's quite an effort to dig in to make it sing. People may say I have this all wrong and that it's meant to be plugged in (like they did about the Fullerton) and maybe that is the case. Plugged in it 'works' insofar as it is louder, but it just a louder version of the same fairly generic tone. I stress that whilst tonally this did not wow me, I am not saying it's a terrible sounding instrument that doesn't work. I just think it's easily beaten.
So there you have it - not one of the worst Fender ukuleles I have seen and in fact one that has various elements I am quite taken with particularly the overall look and skinny body. The build is generally good, and whilst the neck, tuners, pickup and headstock are not for me I am sure many will be happy with them. The sound is rather generic for me though and I think is easily matched for less money or beaten for the same price with other brands. If the price was lower, they ditched the pickup and sorted the nut profile.. who knows.. this might have been higher. As it is though, it gets only a mild recommendation. Not a howler by any means. Just not my kind of uke.
UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP
Model: Fender Dhani Harrison Ukulele
Scale: Tenor (¾ depth body)
Body: Solid Ovangkol top, laminate Ovangkol sides
Bridge: Walnut - slot style
Spacing at Saddle: 41mm
Body finish: Satin
Frets: 19, 14 to body
Nut width: 35mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Fender vintage style chrome sealed gears
Country of origin: China
Styling and overall look
Good overall build
Muted output and not much tonal character
Ugly side controls
Off balance body
Scruffy soundhole paint and fret markers
Neck width and profile not for me personally
Sharp nut edges
Don't think Fender headstocks look right on ukes
Price is high for what you get
Looks - 9 out 10
Fit and finish - 8 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value for money - 7.5 out of 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.1 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz