Last fall, Grace VanderWaal added another impressive milestone to her already-stacked resume at just 13 years old, becoming the youngest artist to ever work with guitar behemoth Fender. And almost a year later, the now 14-year-old is seeing the collaboration come to life: The Grace VanderWaal signature collection is here.
So far, the teen star’s line consists of two ukuleles, the navy blue-colored Moonlight and the earthy dark walnut Signature. The former is more of a beginner model, and the latter is an electric that is performance-ready (and what VanderWaal herself plays).
When it came to designing the two ukuleles, VanderWaal — who won America’s Got Talent in 2016 thanks to her endearing ukulele playing and introspective tunes — had a vision from the second she teamed with Fender.
“I love colors, but I also love rich sounds. And I feel like when it comes to colored ukuleles people assume they’re cheap, or that they’ll have a tinny sound. And I feel like it would be really beautiful to have a rich color but also to have a rich sound,” VanderWaal told Billboard at the unveiling of her ukuleles in New York City.
As the brand’s first-ever ukulele artist, Fender’s VP category manager of acoustic and Squier divisions Billy Martinez said VanderWaal’s passion made the experience uniquely collaborative, which resulted in particularly special designs. The singer’s personal touches — such as her signature on the neck and bodies of each ukulele, and gold accents to pay homage to the gold confetti on AGT, as well as the electric guitar headstock on the Signature ukulele — made VanderWaal and Martinez equally excited when chatting at the launch, making it evident that this collaboration means a lot on both sides.
“It’s been fun to watch her grow,” Martinez said. “When she first came to us, she was finding her niche and getting comfortable. [Now] you see her on tour, and she’s jumping and spinning around, totally becoming her own. It was cool to be able to [work with her] while she was going through that, and get her something that’s now stage-ready that she can go on tour with.”
Though VanderWaal’s next career move is starring in Disney’s adaptation of Stargirl, she recognizes what it means to already have a brand like Fender as part of her career. “The people Fender has worked with in the [past] have like long-lasting and really impacting careers — there’s a lot of pressure to do this so early in mine,” she said. “But on the other hand, it’s also really cool, and really motivating for me.”
Fans who are inspired to play their own ukulele like VanderWaal will receive a little help from Fender upon purchasing the Moonlight or Signature models. Each ukulele comes with a free 30-day trial to Fender Play, an app designed to help players of all levels learn how to play, which includes six of VanderWaal’s own original tunes, “I Don’t Know My Name,” “Just a Crush,” “Clay,” “Gossip Girl,” “Light the Sky,” and “So Much More Than This.”
As part of the collaboration, VanderWaal performed her Just the Beginning track “A Better Life” for the first time ever, strumming her Signature ukulele for the rendition.
Ahead of the official launch of the Grace VanderWaal Signature Line on Oct. 2, check out the special performance, premiering on Billboard below. (Visit fender.com/graceukulele starting Oct. 2 for more information on VanderWaal’s signature line and to purchase your own.)