After 10 years on the road with Keith Urban, Brian Nutter decided to relinquish the rockstar life to stay home in Nashville and build guitars. He started showing his creations at Summer NAMM 2017, where they stood out from a crowd of Tele, Strat and Les Paul clones like a unicorn at the Kentucky Derby.
The body shape of the Astro Captain model on review here bears a resemblance to a Gibson Explorer, but only vaguely. Combined with a three-on-a side headstock and Red Sparkle finish (or Mint Green Sparkle, Ice Blue Sparkle, Silver Sparkle, Champagne Sparkle, Black Sparkle or custom finish of your choice), it creates a retro-modern vibe that should thrill any guitarist who wants to stand out from the crowd. The distinctive look is enhanced further by dots that are positioned on the bass side of the Bolivian rosewood fretboard up to the 12th fret, where they switch to the treble flank for the remainder of their journey up the 22-fret neck.
Despite its considerable size, three pickups and Duesenberg-style tailpiece, the Astro weighed in at just 8.5 pounds and was comfortable to play both sitting down and standing up. Some slight nut pinging aside, the fretwork, setup and finish were excellent. The action came in a little high for my taste, but two twists of a small screwdriver on the Göldo Tune-o-matic style bridge dropped it to a comfortable zone, with no buzzing or fretting out.
The Nutter-wound humbuckers were warm and powerful, and the push-pull pots on the volume and tone controls switch each of the pickups into split-coil mode, where their extra oomph gave them a potent single-coil sound. The upper three-way toggle acts like a standard Gibson switch, selecting neck, bridge or both. The lower toggle offers middle pickup off, middle combined with whatever is selected above and middle-alone settings. The slider switch under each pickup reverses that pickup’s phase, allowing you to throw any of the three pickups in or out of phase with the others. Those switches also choose which coil is operative in single-coil mode.
I’m not normally a fan of guitars with lots of switching options, but after an hour of delving into the Nutter’s sonic possibilities, I found myself a convert. Each combination of switches offered usable sounds, and in addition to standard humbucker, single-coil and Strat-like positionally “out-of-phase” tones, I was able to nail classic hardwired out-of-phase blues tones à la early B.B. King and Peter Green. Running the Astro Captain through a Jetter overdrive pedal ahead of a Supro Comet, I could approximate some cool Brian May–style tones as well. All said, it was a lot of fun searching for unusual sounds to match the guitar’s offbeat look, and with some experimentation I learned I could easily control the amount of phasiness by having all pickups on at different volumes.
If a trio of pickups and a cockpit of switches is not your style, Nutter will happily customize his guitars to suit your preference. I might be happier with just two pickups, as I found the middle one tended to get in the way of my picking style. But having experienced the Captain, I would definitely opt for the phase switches, as they help make this guitar as tonally adventurous as its eccentric styling suggests it is.
PRICE $2,450 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16" bone
FRETBOARD Bolivian rosewood, 25.5" scale
FRETS Dunlop 6100
TUNERS Sealed Kluson
BRIDGE Roller TOM with Göldo vibrato
PICKUPS Three Nutter Rocket Booster 5 humbuckers
CONTROLS Two volume (push-pull), tone (pushpull), two 3-way toggles and three slide switches
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110
KUDOS A multitude of usable sounds, highly playable design, distinctive looks