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SA in 2024: Where does the high-profile king stand in the modern keyboard hobby?

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In early 2021, I only had eyes for SA Godspeed.  Raised in Florida across the bay from Cape Canaveral, I grew up watching space shuttle launches, and my dad’s life-long obsession with NASA, space and sci-fi quickly spread to me. At 27, I was introduced to Neil Armstrong, a personal hero, and was able to tell him the impact he had on me and my family. So on that fateful spring day when I walked into my IT department and told my coworkers that I was thinking of getting into mechanical keyboards, the first set I wanted to own was Godspeed. It took awhile, and I mean awhile for me to accumulate all the different versions of that set. It has three alphas (Solar, Lunar and Supernova), a few full alternates (Mito & Genespeed) and several alternate modifier sets including the transcendent Ares colorway. But several hundred dollars, and many months later, I had constructed a few keyboards all equipped with different versions of SA Godspeed. I made an Earth keyboard, a Mars, an Asteroid, a Moon… an ecosystem of Godspeed. Of course it didn’t stop with profile, and today I also own GMK & MT3 Godspeed alternates, but my first love, in keyboards, keycaps and Godspeed… is the shiny, terminal-esque SA profile version.
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Where it all began In a small Pacific-coast town, a little north of Seattle and a little south of Canada, is a family-run business that’s had an indelible impact on the keyboard world. Owned and operated by the father-daughter team of Bob Guenser and Melissa Petersen, Signature Plastics has produced countless DCS, SA, DSA (and more!) sets over the last 45 years. Last month I reached out to Bob and Melissa for an interview, and they were kind enough to answer my questions, as well as supplying me with the “Story of SP”, an in depth look at the history of their company. I highly encourage you to read the article which they recently published in KBD News. It’s a fantastic read, and really pulls back the curtain on the keyboard industry over the last 50 years. At the end of the article is Bob’s surprising news that SP is “currently searching for buyer candidates …who are also committed to preserving and continuing the legacy tied to that history” so if you are passionate about the hobby and would like to take over producing super high-quality keycaps, you have an opportunity! In his email communication with me, Bob stressed the importance of not tying Signature Plastics just to the SA profile. After all, SA was invented in 1980, DSA in 1983, and the market (and the world) has changed a lot since then. “I don’t feel that Signature Plastics’ legacy should be tied to a single keycap family, like SA. Many of the keysets we sell today” he continued “are produced from molds that were designed on drafting tables and machined on manual mills by German craftsmen over 45 years ago. Because they took pride in what they were building, they were able to achieve tolerances of 0.0002” on critical components without the assistance of SolidWorks or CNC machines. The fact that we are still able to produce a premium product from these molds today speaks volumes about the quality of their craftmanship and the materials they used to build them.” Bob described Signature Plastics as much more than a hobbyist keycap manufacturer, calling SP a successful injection molding company that over the years has produced keysets and components for business computers, POS systems, lottery machines, airline terminals, phone systems and literally thousands of other commercial applications. I asked Bob to list some of the best keycap designs SP has produced over the years, and he replied that “one of the first keysets produced was DSA Lilly designed by Techkeys in 2013. DSA Valentine, designed by Son Lee, followed by several keysets designed by Samual McLagen, Matt Artley, and Matt3o including DCS Miami, DCS Toxic, SA Penumbra, DSA Retro, DSA Skull Squadron, and the timeless DSA Granite keyset. Mito’s very popular SA Pulse keyset helped establish Signature Plastics as a preferred supplier in Drop’s global marketing network.” Following the news that SP was selling, I reached out to DROP, and everyone I spoke to had glowing remarks, a fond memory, or a great story about this pioneering company and their impact on the hobby. Word on the street At a recent keyboard meetup, I had a great conversation with one of my Chicago Discord buddies, Obsidiank, who shared a story about an interaction he had with Melissa from Signature Plastics a few years back. Obsidiank predates my entrance to the hobby by a number of years, and in the late teens, he describes the market as being very select with very few options for keyboard enthusiasts. Especially in the area of alternate keyboard sizes. In 2020, as 65% keyboards were just beginning to grow in popularity, he was struggling to find a keycap set that would cover the specific shift and bottom row keys necessary to build a 65. He reached out to Melissa, who worked with her team and came out with a black on white 65% kit. As he tells the story, it’s clear that in that space and time, he truly didn’t expect that kind of response from a manufacturer, and was blown away by the customer service experience. He sent me a picture afterwards of his SA board, and said that it’s still one of his favorites.
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A group of us gathered at the meetup to chat about SA in today’s market. “I see so few SA kits at the last few meetups” said one of our friends who’s been in the hobby 6 years. “I don’t know that they are selling any less, it’s more that the market is so much bigger now, and that there are so many options. You had to know how it was back then. It was GMK, Signature Plastics, and group buys, group buys, group buys.” So what does that mean for SA? In many ways, the “story” of SA keycaps in today’s hobby is the story of the hobby itself. It’s impossible to overstate how much the custom keycap market has grown in the last five years, and more impressively, how readily-available high quality keycap sets are now. To put it in perspective, four years ago, DROP had not yet released MT3 Susawatari, their first doubleshot MT3 offering. Today they have nearly thirty in-stock sets that fit any keyboard and are consistent in quality. In 2020, GMK cherry profile sets were few and far between, requiring months or years long group buys. (Ok, maybe that hasn’t changed too much. I’ve been waiting for GMK Camping R3 since December of 2021.) That said, there are so many great GMK sets readily available now from multiple retailers, it’s night and day to what we had before. Additionally, with the availability of high quality non-GMK cherry profile and other low-profile sets like DCX from DROP, consumers don’t just have better access to the keycaps they want, they have a much larger selection to choose from.
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The breakneck pace of advancement in this hobby, and how drastically the market has grown, make it almost impossible to put a finger on shifts in purchasing behavior, especially with keycaps and switches. I don’t think that the hobby is old enough, in its current state, to accurately identify trends outside of predictable behavior like advancements in keyboard construction. Influencers might note the increased use of foam in keyboards compared to 6 months ago, or the rise or fall of flex cuts in PCB’s, but even then, keyboard design advancement is not a user trend, it’s akin to automobile technology advancing and changing. The end user has little to no influence over it.  What I do know is this, in a hobby where individual taste and unique-looking boards are valued, SA could be positioned for a resurgence. Personally, four of my boards sport SA sets because they look so different from the boards I see regularly. I’m especially fond of uniform SA sets like Godspeed Mitospeed, which is currently mounted on my atomic purple Bauer Lite from Omnitype. My favorite aspect of uniform SA sets are that they’re composed of all R3 height keycaps and I can put any key on any space on the board. It’s delightful to have that much free reign and the board looks amazing.
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One of the consistent challenges I hear regarding SA is that the high-profile is harder to type on, and causes wrist strain. I know that fewer folks are using wrist rests based on what we see on social media, but I’ve never experienced any additional strain by using SA myself, and as my friend Ryan says… “If you’re hovering properly, there’s no such thing as wrist strain.” I love his optimism.  Conclusions As I close this article, as always, I want to hear from you. What do you think of SA profile? Do you think that the availability of quality keycaps is positioning us for another jump in popularity as a community? Where do you see the mechanical keyboard hobby four years from now? At what point do you think we’ll be able to begin identifying real trends and shifts in keycap usage/marketshare? I’ll do my best to respond to your comments, and look forward to hearing all your thoughts! Thanks for reading. And until next time, keep finding the stories in everything you do. 
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chasewirick
1
Apr 2, 2024
What are the parts that make up the keyboard in the picture at the top? With the GODSPEED enter key and orange, crater-y case? I love this style! I'd like to replicate it!
Th3Mage
8
Mar 6, 2024
When will SA Troubled Minds go on sale again? I want it!!! It's my dream SA keycap set.
rugonom
27
Mar 6, 2024
SA Carbon and SA Pulse got me into this hobby properly back in the day. Its hard to imagine this hobby without Signature Plastics and the legacy of preserving those vintage style keycaps. I drooled over SA 76 when I couldn't afford it at the time. It's kind of heartbreaking to think the end is near for something that was so dear early on.
rugonomCouldn’t agree more! I’m hoping a company with vision buys SA and the hand made tooling sets they use. That level of craftsmanship lost would be such a shame. Know any investors in Seattle?
kuangmk11
9
Mar 5, 2024
SA Forever! For me the hook was the Round 5 groupbuy. I probably would never have gotten into keyboards at all if not for Signature Plastics and SA. Patiently awaiting my Hyper7...
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kuangmk11Such a cool "Wall of awesomeness"... Love your 3d Printed keycaps storage solutions on the lower shelf!
djgleebs
2
Mar 5, 2024
Love the little aside about typing properly... wrist contact with anything = wrong AND dangerous for any extended period of typing.
I love the SA profile and feel of SP's keys, imitations like MT3 just don't have the same sound or smooth cup that Signature Plastics do. I'd love to see Drop restock SA offerings like MiTolet.
GFelix
8
Mar 5, 2024
SA is just about my favorite profile; it looks great, it feels great, and it sounds great. I've tried MT3 but it just doesn't quite scratch the itch - I'm not a fan of the coarser texture (in looks or feel!), the deeper scooping gives the caps pronounced edges that are a lot less forgiving of off-center presses, and the typefaces chosen just don't hold a candle to Gorton Modified.
GFelixLove that typeface!
nickthaskater
48
Mar 5, 2024
Sure wish Drop would restock some of the 40s SA sets. I don't recall the last time I saw a 40s SA kit in stock here.
HarvestDay
135
Feb 21, 2024
SA is my absolute favorite; almost every one of my two dozen boards sports a different set. I have a few MT3 sets, but those feel like placeholders until the right SA set comes along that matches those boards just as well. (Rerun the *real* SA Dasher, Drop!) It's a shame SP is almost certainly shutting down when Bob retires this year. I've avoided clones because I want to give SP my business, but would have to go that route to get anything similar if SP disappears. I just can't type on anything shorter. And SP has always seemed more willing to take risks with designs they run; Drop wouldn't produce MT3 Retro in all-brown and with side legends, but SP proved there was demand for it; selling out of their initial 2023 SA Retro rerun, and having to churn out extra kits.
(Edited)
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