So, I saw this thread, went on Youtube and now I've ended up down a hole. Thankfully I'm not too invested at this stage but I do intend to build my first mechanical keyboard. I'm looking for solid bang for buck, to begin with.
For clarity, I've ordered a Keychron Q3 ISO (no knob) base unit with the intention of possibly doing some light mods, getting my own switches and caps etc.. I wanted an 80% board for light work/browsing and gaming and, it seems like a solid first choice. If successful, I'd likely look to get a 96% board for work and adjust the 80% board for play.
I'm currently thinking I'd prefer yellow switches on that basis but, which ones (especially brand) is something i'm not sure on. I'd also prefer pre-lubed for now.
GMMK seem to have some nice keycap sets I'd quite like but, what other brands are there?
However, boy do I have some questions. Hopefully this is the right place to ask them. I realise that the answers to a lot of these might be subjective and situational.
- Foam. I see talk of various types of damping foam being used. What are they, in which situations are they used and which is 'best'?
- Plates. I believe the Q3 comes with a steel plate but there are options available for aluminum, brass etc.. Again, what and why? I assume there's a pitch/tone element here?
- Tape. Seems to be a fairly common thing people do (?) but, what kind of tape? It looks like masking tape but, is there a certain type/brand?
So, this itself feels like a whole maze of it's own. I get that broadly you have Clicky, Linear and Tactile and then within that you have degrees of but, i see some brands have things that seem like a hybrid and have a random name like 'pumpkin'.
Is there a guide or cheatsheet that maps all of them? I realise for my purposes i don't have a need to too deep at this stage but it would make interesting reading.
Do most sets fit most boards? Which types suit which application etc..? Which brands are a solid choice. I have my eye on the GMMK celestial sets that are due for release at some point. I think they look fantastic.
Plus, any other advice generally?
Welcome friend. I Hope you are enjoying your visit to the world of custom boards. Myself I am now a year in and still feel I have a lot to learn but hopefully my answers may be off benefit for you:
So 96% boards are far and few between in general I have seen in the custom world. KDBFans/KeyChron are probably your best best with that form factor. But if you want something a little more unique then the Cypher F Rowless 1800 (My purple board in the OP) will be coming up again apparently with a Round 4 GB/Sale
Although I haven't used a Keychron myself I hear they are solid starter boards and have a lot of scope to get you that bug and mod as you like.
A good solid and cost effective TKL (80%) board is the Freebird TKL (I have a few friends who are getting it as their first boards) for the price (around £225) you get everything apart from switches and key caps. (So includes durock V2 stabs and a carry case) - So maybe a good start if you are looking for that.
The problem with this hobby is that there are so many projects announced and coming to group buy there is just simply too much choice at times and does feel overwhelming.
So the biggest thing when it comes to switches it really is down to preference. Personally if you aren't too sure what you want then I would suggest getting a switch tester and a sample of switches to see what you prefer. A number of places offer them with different switches from the likes of Gateron, Cherry, JWK, Durock, Kailh, KTT with more coming into the market seemingly every month. If you like yellows then Gateron Yellows (either milky or non-milky) and Gateron X's maybe something to consider they are good cost effective switches for the most part and will work well without needing additional lubing (may benefit from a light lube but not essential)
Personally I have a draw full of different switches from various manufactures and just waiting on boards to put some of them in.
So to go to your questions now:
1) Foam is used to alter the sound profile of a case. Some cases may be designed to have foam to get the acoustics that the designer intended to reduce or remove case ping, in other cases it may be used to alter the sound profile on the end user and I am clearly not informed enough to give you a full in depth review on which is better or worse. Personally for me if the case comes with foam then I will use it. Again it really comes down to preference some people prefer not to use the foam as they feel it mutes the sound too much but I personally like the sound that my current boards provide with the foam that is inserted.
2) The main difference of the plates from my experience comes down to flex and feel (some people like the pcb flexing when they type - i.e. the keys move into the case a little when you are typing and bounce back) I like a stiffer feel when I am typing so I prefer Carbon Fibre and Brass, followed by aluminum. but you also get FR4, POM, PC
PC and POM will be the most flexible with them being made of a plastic material, FR4 from my understanding is basically the same material that the PCB is made from and then obviously Aluminium, Brass and Carbon Fibre for a stiffer field. I like CF for the looks the most though for the most part.
3) Tape - So the various tape mods that have been developed over time including the "force break mod", "holee mod", "tempest tape mod" so breaking them down as I understand it:
Force break is a small amount of tape on the top of the front case section that can help to provide a small air gap/cushion between the top and bottom piece and can help remove the ping that can occur from the space bar (can be used with a small amount of tape or band aid/plaster)
Holee mod used to put a small amount of tape or again band aid/plaster into stabilizers to help reduce "ticking/rattle" this is used to basically stabilize/reduce wire movement in the stabilizer housing. (More companies are offering specific products for this now and in some cases including them with cases)
Tempest Tape mod - So I suspect this probably what you are talking about the most and this again acts like a very thin foam layer absorbing some of the internal resonance that can be generated in the case when foam isn't being used. It is just generic masking tape from what I understand and as long as you take care not to mask over capacitors then it sould be ok for the most part (I don't think it is really recommended when the keyboard is wireless but someone may correct me on that)
Although I have heard about these and seen a number of youtube videos around the subject personally I just lube my stabilizers and use whatever pieces of foam come with my boards rather than doing anything too outrageous.
As I said earlier about switches the best way to experience and figure out what you like is to get a switch tester (they aren't too expensive and a great way to figure out what you like)
I don't personally go down the traditional route of picking switches based on their actual sound and feel and go on what theme am I trying to build to with a board, so colour to me is equally as important as how the switch feels and sounds. But I am very much a linear switch person and prefer switches in the mid 50's - to low 60's g range.
If you want more info on switches then these videos may help you out:
You have already seen these but I love SwitchAndClick in the way they present their content and make it easy for beginners to understand that it isn't as hard as it first seems to build that first board.
Keycaps oh boy where do I start. I think the custom world GMK is treated like the "gold standard" when it comes to key caps but they aren't the only manufacturer on the market.
In recent times a lot of newer upstarts have entered from the likes of MilkyWay, InfiniKey, KeyReactive, nicePBT etc.
In general keycaps should be compatible with most MX style switches (there is a type of switch called alps which are very much in a niche in the hobby from what I can tell) The only thing to look out for really is if you go with a keyboard that has per switch RGB above the switch you may get some interference with key caps in the middle of the board, so ideally if RGB is a thing you want then you want to try and look for south facing RGB to avoid this issue entirely.
Personally if you are just starting out then go for a set you like that isn't too expensive (ocuk have a number of good options) - there are obviously more bespoke places that cater for this and give you alternative choices.
The important thing to look out for though is check if the keyset supports ISO Enter (at the very least) - Especially if you want a traditional UK layout (fat enter rather than skinny one) - You may not get the keys having the correct markings that are used in a UK ISO board but as long as you get the fat enter key you should be fine. So always check to make sure that is included otherwise you will do what i did and buy a set that looked like it would work but didn't support ISO so have to improvise while I ordered another and set to go on the board.
Key caps can also range massively in price from the £30 - 50 sets you can get here to many hundreds of pounds in the more bespoke would when you get down to say GMK/MilkyWay where they split the keysets up into smaller sub sets to cater for the different board layouts and requirements.
My biggest piece of general advice is do your research when it comes to custom boards. Be aware that Group Buys are a thing in the custom world and although more places and projects are trying to do either pre-order or instock sales the vast majority are still group buy (think of it like kickstarter really where the product isn't built and the person running the project is basically funding it from the advanced sales)
Also if you are not a patient person leave the hobby now (delays happen and if a project states that will be shipped to you by a specific date/quarter expect that to always slip to some degree (this is more so present in the key caps where Group Buys for GMK sets are stating Q3/4 2023 releases - but fully expect these to be in a 2024 realm)
Hopefully my random ramblings have helped and if you need anything expanding feel free to ask, as I said I still feel new to this world and I have been in it for a year now already (where has that time and money gone)