Named for the sixth and seventh notes on the Indian music scale—Dha- and Ni- —Harrison was born into an illustrious musical tradition. Raised outside of London, Harrison spent much of his childhood at his family’s Hawaiian retreat in Maui. It was there that his father, George Harrison of The Beatles, introduced him to the ukulele at a young age—and where he truly fell in love with the instrument.
“The ukulele was created to bring the player and listeners joy, and that’s one thing about it I love,” the artist tells American Songwriter in an interview regarding his new Fender Custom Signature Ukulele, available June 3.
“When you play it, you’ll realize it’s a higher quality of ukulele than the majority of ukuleles you’ve probably played that are not custom Hawaiian ones. You might notice the accent is better. The tone is nice, you’ve got an EQ, and you’ve got good tuners. It’s an experience.”
As he grew more versatile on the instrument, Harrison wielded the ukulele as his entrance into songwriting. Influenced musically by Gabby Pahinui, Bennie Nawahi, and George Formby, the artist is adamant about the unique nature of the instrument as a tool in the creative process.
The ukulele welcomes “the percussive nature of the right hand and certain rhythms that you get.” Harrison clarifies, “There are rhythms that exist in your rhythm, but no one’s playing those particular beats.”
“Having an instrument that’s easy to play encourages you to play it more, and it’s more inviting, and therefore you get more time on it. And therefore, you can get better, which brings you more joy.”
Harrison has carved a dynamic space for himself as a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and singer-songwriter. After George Harrison died in 2001, the artist teamed up with Jeff Lynne to posthumously complete and release his father’s album Brainwashed. He won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 2004 for the B-Side standout ballad “Marwa Blues.”
Harrison’s winding career path has brought him on film projects with Shepard Fairey, M.I.A., and RZA to release his 2017 acclaimed solo album, IN///PARALLEL.
His versatility in the studio generated collaborations with an eclectic array of like-minded musicians, including Annie Lennox, Pearl Jam, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Regina Spektor, UNKLE, and Wu-Tang Clan. Harrison’s psychedelic stage styling led the artist to perform at legendary concerts and festivals worldwide, including Coachella and Lollapalooza.
In partnership with Fender, he designed the new custom instrument for live performance. Tenor-sized, the ukulele features a solid ovangkol top with ovangkol back and sides—a wood chosen to assimilate Hawaiian Koa for the mass market, providing a warm sound with uncompromising durability—as well as a ¾ depth. With upgraded Fender electronics, the distinctive build and thoughtfully crafted aesthetics will challenge you to expand your musical horizons.
“Dhani is a world-leading talent, and we are seeing more demand for ukulele instruments than ever – so this collaboration made total sense to us,” says Billy Martinez, Vice President Category Manager -Acoustic and Squier Divisions. The Dhani Harrison Custom Signature is the latest addition to Fender’s expanding line of signature ukuleles, including collaborations with Billie Eilish and Grace VanderWaal.
Martinez adds, “Dhani worked hand-in-hand with us to create his ideal ukulele, incorporating design elements that are deeply personal to him, which we hope will encourage people all over the world to express their own individuality and creativity.”
The model is available in two different finishes, each with its distinguished fretboard inlays and engraved designs—all of which hold personal significance to Harrison.
“I used colors that were not that famous with ukuleles, like surf colors,” he explains. Offered in both a spiritual blue and twilight blue, he equates them respectively to a “blue sky day” and a “space black night.”
“The Sapphire is my nighttime mode and the Turquoise stain is my daytime mode.”
“I look at it every day, and I wouldn’t change a thing,” says the artist. “And when you can say that, honestly, after all the different versions of it I’ve been sent, you know, now I’ve got the finished version and I come downstairs, and it’s on the couch and I look at it, and I still go, ‘That’s a nice uke.'”
Even with its personal touches and accouterments, the final product is simplistic. The Fender team developed the color stains to maintain the visual grain of the wood, reflecting the influence of the natural world.
Extremely lightweight yet durable, the Dhani Harrison Ukulele is built to endure the longstanding legacy from which it was born.
Carefully etched into the fretboard of the Turquoise stain is an evolving series of the moon cycle. Harrison explains, “I spent a lot of time studying astrology and the phases of the moon and how that affects us. So I wanted my uke to reflect that.”
Engraved on the back of the turquoise model is the Hindu Shiva Yantra symbol, which Harrison describes as a “visual mantra.” He adds, “And that one, the Shiva mantra, conquers death. So I thought that was powerful. In the Hindu faith, the Cresent moon is called the Shiva moon, which ties into the fret design for a divine nod to those spiritual influences in his life and music.
The Sapphire stained model, he explains, is “more Tibetan vibe.” With the “third eye om,” or “third eye chakra” illustration carved into the back, the instrument beholds the meditative strength Harrison has found within his musicianship.
“My dad never even had a signature model when he was alive,” he beams with pride upon joining a revered class of Fender Signature artists. “So it’s probably the greatest honor of my life as a musician. For that, I really thank Fender that they believed in me, and I delivered a good product, a product that I’m very proud of.”
At the root of Harrison’s musicianship is his late father’s legacy. As a nod to his enduring influence, the instrument was crafted with George Harrison in mind.
In that regard, the artist continues, “But mostly I’m proud that if my dad played it, I know he would love it. I know he would be so proud of me right now for this. This would be the thing that would make him the happiest – me having a signature uke. He would be blown away. I know that he’s blown away with this. That’s why I’m so proud of it every day.”