Kevin “Thrasher” Gruft (Escape The Fate)

Hailing from Las Vegas, NV, Escape the Fate has seen a successful career in the post-hardcore music scene over the past 11 years. Their three EPs and four full-length LPs have shown the band to have continuously gained momentum and popularity, and they are currently in the studio and working on their fifth album. That’s where we reached guitarist Kevin “Thrasher” Gruft, who, along with bandmate TJ Bell, is a member of the ESP family.

We tried to call earlier today, but apparently you were in the midst of putting down guitar tracks for the new album. How’s that going?
It’s great. We’re working with Howard Benson, who is a multiple award-winning producer. We’re definitely getting a lot of different guitar tones, which is going to make this one of the most sonically diverse records the band has ever done. We’re actually layering different models of ESPs in the songs, stacking sounds from my Horizon and Phoenix. We’re taking a lot of the tones that I regularly use live.

When will the record be finished?
It should be finished by mid-summer, and we’re looking for a release this fall. Meanwhile, we’re heading out on the Vans Warped Tour.

Sounds like a busy time in Escape The Fate Land. Let’s go backwards a little bit so you can tell us how your originally discovered ESP.
When I was growing up, the old music shop where I first took lessons was an ESP dealer who exclusively sold LTD guitars. When I first started getting into shred-style playing, I really wanted a guitar with a Floyd Rose. My first ESP was an MH Series LTD, in copper color, and it had a Floyd. I had a guitar at the time, but going from that to a high-performance ESP… it was an inexpensive guitar, but it was my favorite for a long time.

Were you into any of the ESP artists at the time?
Not really. It was just this small shop in upstate New York, and LTDs were what they had, and it was my favorite guitar in the entire store. It was actually later that I discovered that it’s the company that makes the freakin’ Metallica guitars. I saw Kirk Hammett playing ESP.

What was your next ESP?
Right before I got to LA, I got a Viper with EMGs so I could have a 24-fret guitar. It was something I could shred on but still had kind of a traditional vibe. And then, I joined a band with members that were endorsed by ESP, and I got my first ESP Horizon. It’s red, and it’s still my main guitar to this day. ESP was always the cool guitar to have. For people playing in that style, it’s the only guitar to play.

What about your red Horizon makes it the perfect guitar for you?
It’s just such a solid unit. When you hold it, it feels like one piece of wood. The neck thru body, the way your hand cups the back of the neck. I can throw it around and it can take the abuse on stage. It just looks like an expensive guitar… the ebony fretboard, the extra jumbo frets, the cream binding. You can sense that quality. I remember even a long time ago, being out on tour with Godsmack, and those guys were admiring that guitar. With ESP, I can feel proud of my gear.

What pickups are you using?
A variety of them. Mainly I’m using the EMG 81/85 set, and I recently ordered the EMG James Hetfield JH “Het” Set for my M-II. I also have an ESP Vintage Plus and I’ve put EMG David Gilmour pickups in that. 

Sounds like you go for a lot of variety in tone.
I do a lot of work in the studio, both for our record and with other people. If I’m doing octave parts, I’ll pick up the Vintage Plus first. That thing’s gonna always stay in tune. That’s very important… most important, aside from the tone. I also have the Phoenix, and the extended range stuff, the 7 strings. I have Eclipses. I’ve got an ESP for every genre.

You also use your ESPs for touring. How crucial is reliability on the road?
Reliability is everything for having a guitar on the road. We’ll do these fly dates, going to Manila in the Philippines to Russia, where it’s freezing, sub-zero temperatures. Then we’ll take a train from St. Petersburg to Moscow. I pulled out the red Horizon, and it was ready to go. That’s reliability. 

In addition to a variety of tones, you seem to have a variety of musical influences.
The first player I really latched onto was Stevie Ray Vaughn. I was watching some of his YouTube videos just this morning, actually. When I started out, I was really into blues, guys like B.B. King. Also Jimi Hendrix, though he was so far out for me at the time. But with Stevie, I’d watch videos, and mimic his poses, and his wide vibrato. Later on, when I got more into shred, it was Steve Vai, John Petrucci, and Joe Satriani. I bought a Dream Theater record, and that was it.

Are you looking forward to getting out on the road for the Warped Tour?
Yes, definitely. We’re really excited. I haven’t personally hit the Warped Tour since 2009. I’m also giving clinics on each date of the tour via TEI, the Entertainment Institute. I’m covering everything from guitar techniques to songwriting to production and recording. People can ask questions. We’ll do a Q&A segment. 

Like most of us, I’m sure you remember being a young guitarist who wasn’t quite sure of the best direction for his or her music. Any advice you can share?
First, make sure to follow some sort of practice routine. Second, find anyone in your neighborhood who is willing to put together a band. Jam with people. I was playing shows with my brother at age 13. We did like three originals, and then covers of Hendrix, Stevie Ray, and so on. But it really made a difference in how I progressed as a musician.