Building a custom mechanical keyboard may be intimidating as you have to consider what type or brand of components you’re getting. With this in mind, companies have made entry-level custom mechanical keyboard kits, called the barebones mechanical keyboard, to make things more accessible and beginner-friendly.
A barebones mechanical keyboard is an entry-level kit that allows users to create one-of-a-kind mechanical keyboards with little effort and technical knowledge. It is an excellent and hassle-free way of getting into the hobby as you will get to build your keyboard from scratch. A barebones keyboard is sold without switches or keycaps; therefore, you must obtain your switches and keycaps.
In this article, we will be explaining what a barebones keyboard is and why it’s worth the purchase.
Pre-Built vs. Custom Mechanical Keyboards
For context, in the current mechanical keyboard market, there are two types of keyboards that you can purchase. There are the Pre-built or Pre-assembled kits and the Barebones kits. The essential difference is that a barebones kit typically does not include switches or keycaps.
Manufacturers vary in terms of how they package their barebones kit. Some would readily assemble the kit, leaving you the sole job of equipping the keyboard with switches and keycaps. In contrast, other manufacturers leave the keyboard’s entire assembly process to you.
What is a Barebones Keyboard?
A barebones keyboard kit is a customizable keyboard kit that comes with the essential components in building a custom keyboard, typically without mechanical switches and keycaps. It is an entry-level kit and is beginner-friendly.
A great thing about a barebones kit worth mentioning is that it is hot-swappable, meaning you can easily replace switches as many times as you would like, without the hassle. It’s not as time-consuming as soldering either, as all you do is like up the switch’s pins onto the PCB.
You don’t need to go through the hassle of researching how to solder and desolder the switches, which is a tiresome and time-consuming task.
Let us take the Glorious GMMK Pro as an example. GMMK offers said keyboard both in pre-built or barebones kit version. In the former, the keyboard is pre-assembled together with mechanical switches and a keycap design of your choice. In contrast, in a barebones version, you are only given the keyboard’s assembled “backbone,” wherein you need to make a separate purchase for the switches and keycaps in case you still don’t have them.
On the other hand, other brands, such as KBDFans, want you to get the entire experience of building a custom keyboard. Keyboards from said brand always come in a barebones kit, but this time, unassembled, unlike GMMK’s.
Why is it Better to Buy a Barebones Keyboard?
The main reason people buy a barebones kit is to have the experience of building their keyboard and do modifications in the process without going through the hassle of disassembling the entire keyboard. This could mean the modifications done on the keyboard make it sound and feel the way you want it, down to the brand of switches and keycaps you would like.
With a barebones kit, the possibilities of customization are endless. It would give you more freedom in experimenting with your keyboard to satisfy your preferences.
A barebones kit also lets you try more switches and keycaps than the brand offers. Since the kit does not include switches or keycaps, you must source them yourself.
Pre-assembled keyboards already include the switches and keycaps, so you would have to shell out more money if you want to buy or try different switches or keycaps.
As opposed to having a barebones kit, you get to buy the switches and keycaps you want without having to spend more or have two sets of switches and keycaps.
Barebones are relatively cheaper than the pre-assembled ones, as it does not include switches and keycaps and usually cost less than their already assembled version.
Should You or Should You Not Get a Barebones Kit?
Once you get into the whole personalization process, certain keyboard modifications require further research before implementing them on the keyboard. Disassembling and reassembling your keyboard takes time as well.
Some modifications are more time-consuming than the others, like lubing switches and adding case foam below the PCB. Lubing switches would require more time and energy as you will do opening them up and lubing them one by one, as opposed to just adding case foam below the PCB.
On the other hand, some modifications vary widely in preparation. You need specific materials to execute that modification, meaning there is a high chance that you would also have to shell out a bit more money.
Therefore, it would be best to consider how much time and money you’re willing to put into your keyboard. It would be more beneficial to take the time to research and prepare before implementing a specific modification for that keyboard to get the most out of your kit. That would be one of the main things you should consider in getting a barebones kit.
Pre-assembled vs. Barebones kits
One of the main reasons for buying a barebones kit is that you are given the freedom to customize it to your preference. A barebones kit also happens to be relatively cheaper than the pre-assembled ones.
You can freely experiment on the barebones kit, but it would be best to have some background knowledge and take some time to prepare as it would help your customization journey.
Although not wholly disregarding a pre-assembled kit, it is not a wrong choice either. With this kit, you would be allowed to try the included switches to see whether you like linear or tactile. It is most suitable for beginners and those with little knowledge of keyboards and keyboard modifications. You can either leave it as is or implement your changes to it.
Ultimately, you should choose a kit that better suits your taste. Also, consider if you have the time to fit it into your schedule. As researching and modding takes up a bit of you’re time.
If you want more freedom in building your custom mechanical keyboard and you have the time to spare, then, by all means, go for the barebones. But, if you’re not so particular about the customization and typing experience, nor do you have the time you want a quick fix, then the pre-assembled kit is the one for you.
There is always room for learning and improvement in the mechanical keyboard collecting hobby so take things in stride as we start somewhere.