Ratings

Pros:
Cool and versatile tones. Ambitious electronics. Gloriously lurid looks.

Cons:
Inadequate factory setup.

Street:
$2,450

Nutter Astro Captain
nutterguitars.com


Tones:


Playability:


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Astro Captain’s mission is clear: to echo the wacky aesthetics of off-brand electric guitars from the 1960s, but with modern build quality and playability. The brainchild of Nashville-based luthier Brian Nutter more or less delivers. As a kid back in 1964 might have remarked, “This guitar is neato!”

Seven-Sided Shindig
That heptagonal body might be the first thing that catches your eye, but it’s not the last. There’s that garish red-sparkle finish. The huge pentagonal pickguard. Three humbuckers that fill most of the space between the bridge and fretboard. That unusual, not-quite-a-Bigsby tremolo. Plus oversized knobs, slider switches beneath each pickup, and pickup-selector toggles on both the upper and lower bouts.

Our review model is red, but the guitar also comes in black, silver, champagne, mint green, and ice blue—all in lurid sparkle. The headstock is also clad in glittery finish.

Under the Sparkle
Beneath the glitz, the Astro Captain is made from Fender-style woods: alder body, maple neck, and a Bolivian rosewood (pau ferro) fretboard. The body balances nicely when playing seated or standing, and has a Strat-style belly bevel.

Meanwhile, the fretboard has a Les Paul’s 12" radius. The neck’s rear surface glistens with a thick coat of nitro-cellulose. The frets are Dunlop 6100s and the tuners are closed-back Klusons. The neck’s relaxed D shape and 1 11/16" nut width feel solid and substantial. There’s also a subtle volute at the headstock. One modern touch: The cutaway and 4-screw neck joint are beveled for easy access to the topmost frets.

The playing feel is nice, although any vibrato arm action other than light flutters tended to knock the guitar out of tune, and it’s hard to know if the issue is the nut, the full-width string retainer, or the Bigsby-like Godlo tremolo. The issue could likely be remedied by a good guitar tech, but for the money, you should expect the vibrato to work more smoothly.

Gobs of Knobs
The Astro Captain features a remarkably ambitious control scheme. As an experiment, I once replicated the complex custom wiring of Jimmy Page’s iconic Les Paul. Page used push/pull pots for all four control knobs, providing a raft of alternative tones. But Nutter goes to greater extremes.

As a kid from 1964 might have remarked, “This guitar is neato!”

The Astro Captain captures all seven possible pickup combinations via dual 3-way selector switches. Additionally, the guitar’s three knobs employ push/pull pots that deactivate one side of each humbucker for single-coil sounds. And the slider switches beneath each pickup select which of the two coils will be active. When soloing a single pickup, the effects of coil swapping are subtle. But with combined pickups, you can get many cool and unusual out-of-phase tones.

Are we done yet? Nope. While two of the knobs are conventional volume/tone controls, the third fades the bridge pickup in and out, yielding additional shadings in the neck + bridge, middle + bridge, and all-three-on settings. How many total tones is that? I’ll use a calculator. Let’s see … seven pickup combinations … times six single/double-coil options … times six possible slider switch settings … plus the bridge-pickup trim pot. Yup, just like I thought: an assload.

Tons of Tones
Complicated? Yeah. Fun? Hell yeah—at least if you’re a tone tweaker. Those who prefer no-brainer controls might not dig flipping distant toggles for a desired pickup combination, or that it’s easy to switch into a rinky-dink, phase-cancelled sound when you don’t mean to. There are other quirks, like the fact that the middle pickup is wired directly to the output, “Nashville Tele”-style. That means you can’t lower the guitar volume when playing the middle pickup alone. Also, the global volume control is unusually linear, with most of its variability confined to a fraction of its range.

Nutter’s own Rocket Booster 5 humbuckers sound thick and harmonically dense with both coils engaged, yet they produce airy clean tones when coil-split. For the demo clip, I plugged into a small combo amp for the clean-toned sections, adding an old Klon overdrive for distortion. The phase-cancelled sounds are among the highlights. These aren’t always pretty, but man, could they be useful in crafting multi-guitar arrangements.

The Verdict
The Astro Captain is a fun and highly playable guitar inspired by fun guitars with lousy playability. Some guitarists will recoil from its quirks, while others will revel in them. (If you’d even consider a seven-sided guitar with an excess of controls and a gaudy bowling ball finish, you may already have a foot in the “revel” camp.) The review model would benefit from a better setup. But when it comes to combining Brand Z aesthetics with modern playability, it’s space mission accomplished.

Watch the Review Demo: