During a proteolytically-driven maturation process, the ortho-retroviral capsid protein (CA) assembles to form the convex shell that surrounds the viral genome. In some orthoretroviruses, including Rous Sarcoma Virus (RSV), CA carries a short and hydrophobic spacer peptide (SP) at its C-terminus early in the maturation process, which is progressively removed as maturation proceeds. In this work, we show that RSV CA assembles in vitro at physiological temperatures, forming hexamer tubes that effectively model the mature capsid surface. Tube assembly is strongly influenced by electrostatic effects, and is a nucleated process that remains thermodynamically favored at lower temperatures, but is effectively arrested by the large Gibbs energy barrier associated with nucleation. RSV CA tubes are multi-layered, being formed by nested and concentric tubes of capsid hexamers. However the spacer peptide acts as a layering determinant during tube assembly. If only a minor fraction of CA-SP is present, multi-layered tube formation is blocked, and single-layered tubes predominate. This likely prevents formation of biologically aberrant multi-layered capsids in the virion. The generation of single-layered hexamer tubes facilitated 3D helical image reconstruction from cryo-electron microscopy data, revealing the basic tube architecture.