GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE STRUM
If your pre-teen or teenage girls want to get into ukulele, makers Fender and Kala are listening. Fender has created Billie Eilish Signature and Grace VanderWaal Signature models for the ukulele-inspired artists. Kala Brand is offering a Learn to Play package endorsed by America’s Got Talent (AGT) winner Mandy Harvey.
This trio of stars proved that the little ukulele is a genuinely mighty instrument. They each got a basic uke, quickly learned to play it, and then wrote their own songs.
Grace VanderWaal, Kid Composer
11-year-old Grace VanderWaal wanted a ukulele so bad that after her mother refused to buy her one, she saved her money and bought one herself. Grace taught herself to play and began writing songs.
Grace uncovered her talent for composing and singing and used the uke as her tool to write songs and accompany herself. She made a series of YouTube videos that showcased her talent, and soon she was performing locally and developing a following on the internet.
At 12, Grace did something even more remarkable: she won on AGT with her own song, I Don’t Know My Name. Since then, she has released songs on a major label, opened for huge acts like Imagine Dragons, and even branched off into acting. I Don’t Know My Name continues to be a favorite of beginning players. All that started with a ukulele and a desire to learn.
Mandy Harvey: Reaching and Teaching Others
Mandy Harvey’s story is similar to Grace’s in that she’s an AGT winner who writes her own songs. But Mandy had to overcome a significant obstacle in her ukulele journey. At 18, she began to lose her hearing because of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disease.
As she started to lose her hearing, Mandy reinforced her musical skills and learned to rely on other sensory input to guide her vocals and playing. She used an electronic tuner to practice singing notes at the right pitch. When performing with other musicians, she feels the vibrations of the music to keep time. Despite being deaf, she plays, sings and writes songs at a high level.
Mandy is also in demand as a motivational speaker and represents the No Barriers nonprofit.
Now Mandy is helping kids learn to play ukulele. Kala Brand ukuleles created a signature Mandy Harvey Learn To Play tenor ukulele ($240), with accessories and a learning package.
The Mandy Harvey signature uke is a tenor size, best for kids with bigger hands, like pre-teens and teens.
Mandy Harvey Tenor Ukulele Learn To Play Kit
Billie Eilish: A Ukelele Underneath the Attitude
Before Pop Star Billie Eilish ever picked up a guitar, she learned ukulele and began writing songs at age six. She became a streaming emo-pop star by 14.
While her hit songs usually rely on electronic instruments, the Bad Guy singer-songwriter remains a ukulele devotee, playing it in concerts and TV appearances. Saluting her ukulele roots, Fender introduced a Billie Eilish Signature uke in 2020.
Fender Signature Models: Get Amped
The Fender Grace VanderWaal Signature ($199) and Billie Eilish Signature ($299) signature models take things up a notch with electronic pickups for amplification. If you’ve got a serious songbird or instrumentalist on your hands, these instruments are perfect for performances at church groups, coffee bars, recreation centers or schools. These ukes are made to plug into amplifiers or PA systems, but can also be played without amplification.
The Grace VanderWaal Signature is also available in a less expensive acoustic-only model ($129).
Both electric-acoustic models feature an industry-standard Fishman onboard preamp with EQ, essential for on-stage performances. The preamp boosts the acoustic instrument’s signal so it can be fed into an amplifier or PA system. The player can adjust the volume and the three-band EQ (bass, mid, treble) to improve the instrument’s sound in different settings.
Each uke features a pull through bridge, which makes string changing a lot easier by eliminating complicated knot-tying.
Both ukuleles feature stylistic touches related to the artist. Grace VanderWaal’s unique signature is featured on the back of the headstock, while Billie Eilish’s uke is covered with her trademarked goth-style insignia.
These signature models are much more serious instruments than Fender’s entry-level ukuleles. If your daughter or niece dreams of becoming a serious artist, either of these ukes can be her musical palette.
Fender Grace VanderWaal Signature Ukulele
Fender Billie Eilish Signature Ukulele
What’s Behind the Prices?
Why do these signature model ukuleles cost more than entry-level ukes ($50 to $100)?
The artist endorsement definitely is part of it, but there are other factors that result from the artist-manufacturer partnership.
Design matters, but adds cost. High profile signature model instruments require visual design elements to give the product the right vibe. To match Billie Eilish’s intense visual style, her ukulele requires more bling than the down-to-earth Grace VanderWaal’s version.
Also, the consumer is going to expect the instrument to be a cut above a generic product. So the maker is more careful about sourcing materials and quality control.
But the big value add here is the high-quality Fishman preamp. You can get an electric-acoustic uke for less, but it will usually have a low-quality preamp. For a performer, the preamp needs to be reliable on stage. Cheaper units don’t sound as good and are more likely to fail.
Who Should Play These Fender Signature Ukuleles?
- Pre-teens and teens who have shown an interest in performing.
- Superfans of the artists.
- Adults who want a better than entry-level uke to plug into an amp, PA or home recording setup.
Mandy Harvey Signature Learn to Play Bundle
- This tenor size acoustic-only ukulele is best for kids with larger hands, from age 9 up, $240.
Grace VanderWaal Signature Ukulele
- Acoustic version $129, smaller soprano size, perfect for just for fun playing, age 5 through 8
- Concert size, acoustic-electric version, $199, for the more serious student who wants to perform, age 9 and up
Fender Billie Eilish Signature Ukulele
- Acoustic-electric only, concert size, $299, for goth-style conscious youth, age 9 and up