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I must have watched this GMMK Pro pre-sale build video from a YouTuber named IO Sam a dozen times before I pulled out my wallet and pre-ordered it.
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In retrospect, I learned a great deal about building keyboards from Sam’s straightforward, professional delivery. I watched and re-watched sections I didn’t understand, and certain phrases and moments in the video stuck with me in ways where I still think about them. Especially at 23:10, when he compliments the MT3 White on Black keycaps with an actual chef’s kiss, locks eyes with the camera and says “Perfecto.” (I still do that whenever I put MT3 WOB on a board.) In that video, IO Sam introduced me to DROP, when he referenced the MT3 WOB’s and the GMK Kaiju keycaps that he set the Glorious GMMK Pro up with. I was in love with the look and feel of the MT3 profile. (I still am, as you can read in my previous article “In defense of MT3”) As a life-long Godzilla fanatic, I fell head over heals for GMK Kaiju. In the latter parts of Sam’s guide I learned how to lube switches, was introduced to the basics of keyboard assembly, and picked up a few other tricks. It’s hard for me to imagine my early days in the hobby (and my early buying decisions) without reminiscing about this video. "Regrets. I've got 'em." - Marie Curie That said. The Glorious GMMK Pro is, how do you say, “not good?” And in the years since, as I’ve had time to regret my purchase, I’ve never held it against Sam. He made it clear that there were glaring issues with the board (although I don’t remember him mentioning that it felt like typing on a rock) and that it wasn’t for everyone. It did help me learn to build a keyboard in a very sturdy, you-can’t-mess-this-up sort of way, and when I first discovered that the GMMK Pro was more fun to look at than type on, it became the first keyboard I painted. I followed some painting guides I found online and went with a wonderful cinnamon color that matches SA Godspeed Ares perfectly.
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As I stood outside my garage in Lemont, Illinois, shaking my spraypaint can, I can remember thinking that if I screwed the keyboard up I could just buy another top case. As it happens, even though the paint project turned out great, I bought another top case. I happen to love the forest green one, and picked it up for $20 at a local MicroCenter (Which sells Glorious products)… I currently display my GMMK Pro with that forest green topcase and the absolutely unique keycap set “Corn” PBT. That’s the thing about searching for “best keyboard” or “best keycaps” will get you. Opinions, some knowledgeable, some not. All flawed in one way or another because as we know the deeper you get into mechanical keyboards, a lot of variables go into putting together a winning combination of keycaps, switches, stabs and more, all on the right board, in the right color, for the right purpose. I’ve put my favorite keycaps on my favorite board, with my favorite switches and hated the result. It’s all about finding the balance needed, the sound profile it produces, and the look/feel that you need for a specific task. Even if you’re looking to buy one keyboard and make it your all-arounder, using it for everything from blogging to gaming, it requires finesse to find the right fit for you. With that in mind, I’d like to share some concepts and ideas I would give to someone looking to buy the “best” X for Y, and how I would approach the different tasks we use keyboards for, with the options we have available to us. “I can’t type on this stupid keyboard.” - William Shakespeare Typing, specifically writing, can seem deeply personal, but in truth is probably more generic than not in the qualities all writers need from a keyboard. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that every writer needs the following from a mechanical keyboard to write well… 1) comfort 2) an energetic, tactile response (not the switch type… just something you feel) 3) lack of distraction What’s funny, is that while I was researching my first keyboard, I knew that writing was how I was going to use it but I had a very different set of values in mind. 1) clickety-clackety typewriter-ness 2) feeling like my fingers were being cuddled by my keyboard 3) garnering the attention of everyone within a three state radius I went hard on the latter. Kailh Box Jade clicky switches in the aforementioned rock-of-a-keyboard GMMK Pro, with (initially) SA Godspeed keycaps, then MT3 White on Blacks. Unsurprisingly, I achieved my goals of getting everyone’s attention, my fingers felt very loved by my keycaps, and I definitely felt like I was typing on a Smith Corona, circa 1970… the thing was, I wasn’t writing more efficiently. Just… louder. In those early days of my keyboard journey, I rejected the idea that Cherry profile was superior in some way to MT3 or SA just because it was lower in profile. To me, that just made it more “normie.” It wasn’t until I got my first Cherry profile keycap set, the delightful Momoka Matsuri, as a door prize in a Chicago area “Windy City Keyboard Meet” that I realized that Cherry profile keycaps were indeed really fun to type on. I doubled down on Momoka, buying my first set of Momoka Frog v3 linear switches, which became my favorite switch for over a year (check out Theramin Goat’s fantastic write up), and then I was really cooking with gas. Typing on the burgundy Qwertykeys QK65 R1 with that combination produced some of my best writing results to date.
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Rather than being distracted by the sounds of my typing (even though I felt very dapper and old-timey) the sounds of factory lubed linears and Cherry profile caps blended into my thoughts and simply became part of the writing experience. The keycaps were short, required little thought or interaction when writing, and the slightly granular surface was pleasant to the touch without requiring the “cupping” action of the MT3. While I wouldn’t call them Cherry clones, DROP’s DCX profile is incredibly similar, and for the sake of those very well-made sets, I’ll include that profile as an alternative to GMK Cherry sets. I love writing on MT3 keycaps, but if I’m honest, it requires effort to convince myself that I’m enjoying it. “Isn’t this great? Typing on these big ol cupped-as-hell keycaps! Aren’t you happy?” It’s kind of like smoking a cigar. Yes, it’s enjoyable and nostalgic while at the same time, you’re partially convincing yourself that your mouth isn’t dry and burn-y. Maybe a better example is a car that is fun to drive because it has very active handling, verses a car that runs so smoothly that you get where you’re going without even thinking about it. If the journey is the goal, it can be really fun to write on a less efficient profile like MT3 or SA. If you want to get where you’re going quickly and well, I think Cherry or DCX is the way to go. “I’m just looking for a nice keyboard I can use for my scrapbooking” – Tony Soprano Looking for a good all-around keyboard? Say you want keycaps that attract attention and win you the “cool gal at the office” trophy while providing reliability and quality? For this use I would make a case for non-sculpted SA keycap sets. Signature Plastics’ iconic profile SA primarily comes in “sculpted” form, where each row of keycaps are a different height, and occasionally in “non-sculpted” form where all rows are R3 (the height of the 3rd row in the sculpted set). I’ve been rocking DROP + Cocobrais’ SA Handarbeit keycaps on my Neo65 for a couple months now, and it is far and away the most “all-around” feel I have of any board I own. Mounted on HMX Cheese! linear switches, the glossy, weighty feel of the keycaps is nothing short of robust. I feel like I could drop a baseball on my keyboard and it’d bounce off harmlessly. Every time I sit down at the desk to quickly shoot an email off, or browse the interwebs, the keys feel bouncy and responsive.
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While this article isn’t meant to be about specific keycap sets, I feel it necessary to offer a brief history of SA Handarbeit. Based on a 1993 keyboard/keycap combination from the German keyboard manufacturer, Cherry, Handarbeit (“Handbuilt” in German) is an explosion of color and a testament to 1990’s keyboard design. Check out this fantastic collection of photos of an original Handarbeit keyboard with Cherry keycaps. Created as sample keyboards to show off their color capabilities, Cherry made Handarbeit intentionally eye-popping, in primary reds, yellows and blues, with accents like salmon, orange, and light/dark greens. It’s a real show stopper, but if it’s too much for you, check out the also-excellent SA Mitospeed cyber colorway of Godspeed, which comes in R3 height and has a decidedly cyberpunk aesthetic. The winner of designer Mito’s online “Designing together” initiative, Mitospeed was created based on feedback from the mechanical keyboard community.
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Note: sculpted SA can be a bit demanding when typing because of the height of the keys, but non-sculpted doesn’t have that vibe at all. Much like Cherry/DCX, R3 height SA keycaps are easy to type on, thick and enjoyable to use, and like I mentioned above, feel sturdy. Another key reason to choose non-sculpted SA as an all-arounder, is that the keycaps are truly interchangeable. Want to use an accent key anywhere on the keyboard? No problem. All non-sculpted keys are the same size and height, and can be placed anywhere on the board. One of the downsides to highly sculpted sets like MT3 is that if you want that awesome “bomb” icon on the 2nd row, but only have it in R4 and R5… tough luck, unless you’re ok with a keycap sticking way above its peers, which none of us are. With all keycaps being the same height, you’re able to truly personalize your keyboard without limitation. Here's my QK60, currently set up with Mitospeed.
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“We stylin, profilin’.” – Winston Churchill When it comes to style, and creating a unique, personal look, I think that it’s important to consider the typefaces of the keycaps you choose. Buying multiple sets from the same manufacturer increase your chances of those sets using the same typeface, and thus enabling you to mix and match those sets to create unique combinations. Many sets offer multiple colorways, allowing you to mix and match your set to your satisfaction. I recently purchased SA Ramses off of Omnitype during their anniversary sale, and was able to choose the dark green “Nile” alphas and beige “Sand” accents. When mounted on my dark gold Vertex Arc60, they really pop.
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Alongside mixing and matching (see one of my favorite mix and matches below...), it’s important to take into consideration any artisan keycaps you might work into your board. Just bought a beautiful SA profile artisan from Dwarf Factory? It’s probably going to look weird if it’s paired with Cherry/DCX keycaps. Better to find a similar profile keycap set to match it, or choose a DOM (domed) option of the same artisan if available.
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Lastly, when looking for a dramatic, eye-catching keyboard setup, think outside the keycaps. A comment on my recent post about building tribute boards asked for advice regarding an X-Men themed board, and I responded by saying “Wow! As a life-long X-men fan, my favorites are Bishop and Forge, so kudos on the kid liking Cable. Here's my take: Think outside the keycaps. Keychron makes a bunch of really nice "girlfriend's-son-price-range" boards in what I would consider X-Men blue. Then you can go grey keycaps with yellow accents, or something more creative. When I think of the 90's cartoon, I think high profile and shiny, so maybe some SA keycaps? If grey, Godspeed SA "genespeed" is really nice for this, and is currently on sale here on DROP for half price. If you want the blue/yellow/grey keycaps in SA, check out Domikey's SA Atlantis. Other ideas (and higher priced ideas) would be the new Cherry profile all white X-ray keycaps from Omnitype, that have a "dual layer/Cerebro" feeling, like the x-men's powers/personalities... Lastly, if you're gonna go cherry profile, Dwarf factory made cool X artisans a few years back and they're still available on mechanicalkeyboards.com. By stretching your creative muscles, and thinking outside the box, you’ll be able to set yourself up for flexible, creative arrangements that will wow your friends and win you some street cred at your next local meetup. “I’m all about staying up late nights, pawning noobs.” - Ghandi Since I’m not a gamer, I don’t even feel particularly qualified discussing the needs of the gaming community when it comes to keyboards. That said, it seems like OEM and Cherry profiles dominate the gaming keyboard scene, and RGB shine thru is much more prevalent due to low light battlestation setups. If I were commissioned to do a gaming setup, I’d focus on keycaps with solid construction (based solely on hearing my son punch his desk in anger) and a keyboard with a good reputation for performance, like Corsair’s K70 RGB Pro or my personal fav the Wooting 60HE (which has some really cool keycap combinations standard). One unique option for a gaming setup might be to go with Matt3o’s MTNU profile keycaps that are lower profile than OEM or SA, but taller/rounder than Cherry/DCX. It would certainly meet the “sturdiness” requirement and could really set your board apart when fighting 10-year olds online. “Let’s wrap this up. My attention span is shot.” – Michelangelo I’d love to hear from you regarding what you find best to use in these instances. Are you a hard-core, low-profile chocolate-switch fanatic? Do you just tap on your iPad screen and scoff at mechanical keyboard users? If so, why are you reading this? Do you rock a vomit-board with a keycap from every set you own, all mounted on 65 unique switches? As a community, we’re stronger thanks to our diversity, and the unique approaches we bring to the hobby make it all the more exciting and engaging. Please comment below, and as always, keep finding the stories in everything you do.
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Great write up and read! During my honeymoon phase where I wanted to touch and type on anything and everything, both when it came to keycap profiles and switches, I felt like I was definitely enjoying the hobby, but it was really getting to be a bit of a whirlwind. Eventually, I settled in and realized what I, specifically, loved about the hobby, which was finding a few switches and keycap profiles and manufacturers that I could use for a majority of boards, and simply focus on the boards themselves (and went from someone that cared a lot about the sound and feel of a build to someone that cares a whole lot more about the aesthetics and supporting a designer/cause by buying a board). I tend to use Cherry MX Hyperglide Reds/Blacks (lubed and spring swapped) on aluminum plates, MX Hyperglide Browns (lubed and spring swapped) for plateless boards, and KTT Roses (lubed and spring swapped as usual) for plastic plates like PC/POM/PP. I also settled on the cherry profile with GMK being the mainstay, but also using JTK/DCX/JCS/XMI, and whatever other three-lettered acronym there is out there. Knowing full well that these three switches won't work in every instance, I'm still relatively happy to trade a pursuit of perfection for an "as long as doesn't sound or feel horrible, and the aesthetics are on point, I'm happy" mindset. I think it's so amazing that there are so many options of keycaps, switches, and keyboards out there, and even if it's not a build/profile/switch that I would personally buy to use, I still have that excitement when I see others talk about their configs and what they like in terms of build choices.
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