The custom keyboard hobby can get…well, expensive. Not only do you have to get a keyboard kit, you also have to purchase keycaps, switches, stabilisers, along with a slew of other accessories to assemble a complete keyboard.
Take this keyboard I’ve built a few days ago, the Jelly Epoch: it cost me over RM3,000 to put it together. While that is undeniably a lot of money, I definitely did not regret spending this much “just” for a keyboard – read on to find out why.
First, let’s break down the cost of this keyboard:
- Jelly Epoch kit: about RM2,200 (including shipping, extra hotswap PCB, aluminium plate, foams)
- GMK White-on-Black keycap set: RM520 (shipping included)
- SP-Star Luminous Cyber switch: RM215 (81 switches with shipping included)
- Durock V2 stabilisers: RM67 (shipping included)
- Total amount: RM3,002
Do note that due to foreign exchange rate fluctuations, the current prices of the Jelly Epoch (not that it’s available for purchase now) and GMK WoB keycap set may be different from what I paid above. Thankfully, I do save on shipping for the switches and stabilisers – I sourced these two parts locally from Keys on Shopee.
Technically, the Jelly Epoch itself only cost me around RM1,700, but the extras I got for the keyboard drive up the price quite a bit, especially the extra hotswap PCB and aluminium plate. While I’d say the plate is optional, it’s good practice to get an extra PCB in case anything happens.
You wouldn’t want your expensive keyboard to be an expensive paperweight if you have only one PCB, and it breaks somewhere down the road.
It’s also worth noting that the actual amount I spent is more than the figure above; I didn’t include the cost of items needed to lube the switches and tune the stabilisers. These include a switch opener, switch films, brushes, and of course, lube.
Collectively, these items cost more or less around RM100, though I’m not including them in the cost breakdown. After all, I can still use these items across other keyboards, so the cost is spread out.
Wait, Why Are These Parts So Expensive?
Well, some folks would consider the Jelly Epoch a premium keyboard kit, so the parts that I got for it has to match the “status” of the keyboard, so to speak. The GMK keycap set, for one, is really the gold standard for keycaps. The SP-Star switch is also a more premium option, which cost me about RM2.60 per switch.
While it’s entirely possible to lower the cost of this setup by going with more affordable switches and keycap set, you do get what you pay for here. You will not get the same level of quality by going with cheaper options, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, it would only be “fair” to the Jelly Epoch by pairing it with equally premium parts.
Believe it or not, the Jelly Epoch isn’t even the most expensive keyboard kit to hit the market.
Why Spend So Much?
For a number of reasons! As I’ve said before, you get what you pay for, and every single part of the keyboard impacts the typing experience one way or another. I don’t mind paying so much for the Jelly Epoch itself for its fantastic sound profile, which is inherently deep and thocky.
As for the GMK keycap set, it’s costly for a number of reasons: it has a nice, premium feeling texture, and I love how sharp the legends look. Given that the keycap is the part of the keyboard that we touch the most, it’s worth spending on a high quality keycap set like GMK for a more pleasant typing experience.
It doesn’t matter how good the keyboard is if the keycaps feel horrible to the touch.
Last but not least is the SP-Star Luminous Cyber switch. Compared to, say, a much more affordable Gateron Yellow linear switch that costs around RM1 per unit, this particular SP-Star switch is far smoother out of the box. It has very little wobble too, which makes for a more “stable” typing experience.
Plus, this SP-Star Luminous Cyber switch – as its name suggests – glows in the dark! Granted, it’s not like I can see the switches once the keycaps are installed, but it’s a…unique feature nonetheless.
What about the Durock V2 stabiliser? Is it wise to spend RM67 for it? Absolutely. Stabiliser is one part of a keyboard that you really should not cheap out on; there’s nothing worse than the ticking of a cheap set of stabilisers. Anyway, the Durock V2 stabiliser, when tuned properly, is really one of the best options out there.
Can I Get a Similar Typing Experience for Less?
Definitely! Well, to an extent. If you want a deep, thocky sound profile like the Jelly Epoch, you do have to look around for another keyboard kit that offers such a property – and hope that it’s not priced astronomically high.
When a particular keyboard goes on group buy – which is similar to a pre-order – there will usually be a sound test of the keyboard in question, so keep your eyes peeled. MechGroupBuys is a great website to check on what pre-orders are currently running in the custom keyboard scene, ranging from keyboard kits, switches, and keycap sets.
Speaking of which, you don’t have to opt for a GMK keycap set either for a good typing experience. A more affordable alternative is an ePBT keycap set, though some colourways can get expensive.
Do note that ePBT keycaps are also made from PBT plastic, so it has a deeper sound profile with a slightly rougher texture than the ABS plastic of GMK keycaps. Some folks actually prefer these properties.
As for switches, the aforementioned Gateron Yellow switch is a great budget choice. It’s definitely not quite as smooth as the SP-Star switch out of the box, but with some lubing, you can definitely get close.
Where Do I Start?
If you want to get into the custom keyboard hobby, we’ve got quite a number of articles to help you get started, such as our custom keyboard buyer’s guide. Not sure where to buy keyboard parts? We got you covered. Too many switch options out there? We outline the different types of switches here, along with some personal recommendations.
Trust me when I say this: it’s unreal how much better a custom keyboard is compared to an off-the-shelf keyboard. Yes, it’s not as straightforward as just purchasing a keyboard from a store – and it’s not as affordable – but a custom keyboard offers superior typing experience, tons of customisation, and most of all, it feels rewarding when you’ve built your first keyboard.
Of course, you can always commission someone else to build a custom keyboard for you, but where’s the fun in that?