One of the best things about mechanical keyboards is how customizable they are. While many are perfectly happy with using stock keyboards, there are a ton of keyboard mods you can perform to help change or improve the look, feel, and sound of your mechanical keyboard. So, if you want to take your basic keyboard to the next level, this list is for you.
We’re ranking these mods from easiest to hardest so you can ease your way in before deciding whether keyboard modding is for you. Let’s get started.
1. Replace Your Cable
Changing your keyboard cable won’t affect how your keyboard feels. Still, it can greatly impact your overall setup’s aesthetics, especially if you’re the type that likes a color-coded setup.
If you have a keyboard with a detachable cable—and most do, these days—you can head to an online retailer to grab custom USB cables like these CableMod keyboard cables. Aftermarket cables usually come in coiled and straight versions, and some even feature fancy aircraft connectors to add an extra layer of visual flair to your setup.
There are a ton of aftermarket cable manufacturers out there, so it’s worth exploring to find a cable (or manufacturer) that appeals to you.
2. Change Your Keycaps
Changing your keycaps is one of the quickest and easiest ways to breathe new life into your keyboard. Not only does a new set of keycaps give your keyboard a new look, but it can subtly affect how it feels and sounds to type on as well.
Keycap materials (ABS vs. PBT) and thicknesses have a minor impact on how your keyboard sounds, while different keycap profiles can change the typing feel slightly with their different angles and heights. While neither will make your keyboard feel like an entirely new one, it’s worth experimenting with materials and profiles to see which best suits your preferences.
We have a whole guide to keycap types available, which should help get you up to speed on all the critical features and terminology you should be aware of. And if you’re looking for tips on which keycaps to buy, check out our list of the best keycaps out there for some great starting points.
3. Install O-Rings
O-rings are a simple but effective way to reduce the sound of your keyboard. They go on your keycap stems and reduce the total switch travel. This mostly eliminates the loud bottom-out clack you get with mechanical switches by stopping your keys from bottoming out.
However, this reduced noise doesn’t come for free. By reducing your switch travel, rubber O-rings will affect how your switches feel to type on. So we recommend starting with thin and firm O-rings like these 1.5 mm O-rings. Install one on each keycap and see how your keyboard feels to type on; if they’re fine, then you can run with them. If you need more silencing, simply install another O-ring for 3.0 mm of cushioning and travel reduction.
4. Change Your Switches
The switches are the most crucial part of a mechanical keyboard. While components such as the keycaps, plate, and case all play a role in how the keyboard feels and sounds, the switches are where it all starts.
Modern MX-style mechanical switches come in three types: linear, tactile, and clicky. Each has its own characteristics and feel, and finding the right type to suit your preferences is crucial to the mechanical keyboard experience.
If you’re a gamer, you’ll likely enjoy linear switches the most. Typists, on the other hand, tend to gravitate towards tactile or clicky switches. You can game and type on anything, of course, but these are good general rules to start with if you’re not familiar with the wild world of mechanical keyboard switches.
So if you’re a gamer using tactiles and feel like you aren’t quite jiving with them, simply pop them out with a switch puller—provided you have a hot-swappable keyboard—and install a set of great linear switches instead. Or if you’re using linears and want a bit of tactile or auditory feedback, you may want to check out some of the best clicky switches or best tactile switches instead.
Of course, you may just want to upgrade instead, in which case you can check out better-quality switches of the same type you’re enjoying right now. So, for instance, if you’re using Cherry MX Reds and enjoy them, you could try installing a set of JWK Black Linear V2s, which are smooth mid-priced linears. Similarly, Cherry MX Brown lovers may want to investigate tactile switches like the Tecsee Purple Pandas.
This is where you’ll likely spend the most time and money experimenting and honing your preferences. Finding the right switch will feel frustrating, but trust us: it’s worth it. Be sure to check out our list of the best places to buy keyboard switches to help you in your quest.
5. Install Sound-Dampening Foam
If your keyboard has an annoying metallic sound when typing, then you’ll want to try the PE foam mod. This involves installing a layer of sound-dampening foam underneath your keyboard printed circuit board (PCB), which reduces noise and changes the sound profile slightly.
But while the foam is easy to install, getting there can be tedious as you’ll have to disassemble your keyboard. Some keyboards will require you to remove all your switches, while others will simply come apart with a few screws. Some may also require you to remove the switches, plate, and PCB all in one go.
We can’t cover every possibility here, so we recommend doing a quick Google search to see how to dismantle your keyboard. If you can’t find any results, r/MechanicalKeyboards is always a good place to start asking.
Once you have it apart, it’s a simple matter of putting a layer of keyboard foam in the bottom housing to sit between the PCB and your keyboard’s bottom case. You may have to cut the foam to clear any molding or posts, but that’s a simple task achievable with a sharp pair of scissors or a hobby knife.
You can choose from a few types of foam, including poron, EVA, and PE foam. Each dampens your keyboard differently, and you may want to experiment with the materials to find the one that suits your tastes best.
You’ll also have to decide on a suitable thickness, depending on how much space you have between your PCB and keyboard case. You want foam thick enough not to leave big gaps but thin enough that you can still reassemble your keyboard.
6. The Tape Mod
This is another mod that requires you to disassemble your keyboard to get access to the PCB. So, while the mod itself is simple, getting there can be complicated (depending on your keyboard). But once you have access to the bottom of your PCB, all you’ll need to do is stick low-tack tape (such as painter’s tape) all across the back of your PCB.
Tape modding can make your keyboard sound more “poppy,” often with an increase in perceived volume. Some users also report that their keyboards sound deeper than stock. While we’re unsure why this happens, it may have something to do with how the tape reflects some of your switches’ sound back toward your ears.
Given how easy the mod is to perform (and how reversible it is), we think it’s worth trying to see whether you like the results. If you don’t, simply reopen your keyboard and peel off the tape. As long as you use low-tack tape, you should be able to remove it without damaging your PCB.
7. Mod or Replace Your Stabilizers
If you’ve ever thought that the long keys on your keyboard (Spacebar, Shift keys, Backspace) sound or feel rattly or rough, it’s probably time to mod your stabilizers.
To do this, you’ll want to remove your stabilizers first; this is usually quite easy, especially if you have a hot-swap board. You remove them from the plate or unscrew them from your PCB. Either way, once you remove them, you can perform the common three-step mod: clipping, lubing, and band-aid modding.
Clipping is simple but easy to get wrong. It involves removing small parts of the stabilizer stem, which is the part of the stabilizers that move up and down with your keys. It’s hard to explain in text, but this image shows you exactly the parts you want to remove.
Lubing involves applying dielectric grease—usually Krytox 205g0—to the stabilizer housings and stems. You want to lube all the surfaces that make contact and rub against each other to ensure your keys move smoothly and without undue friction.
Finally, the band-aid mod involves cutting up a few band-aids and applying them to the PCB where the stabilizer housings sit. This dampens the impact of your stabilizer stems hitting the PCB, which gives them a slightly deeper and quieter sound. This can be fiddly, so take your time and use tweezers.
You could also dismantle your whole keyboard to access the bare PCB, but we think that’s probably a bit overkill.
There’s also the Holee mod, which involves squeezing fabric band-aid strips inside the stabilizer stems where the stabilizer wire meets the plastic. It’s probably the best mod out of all of these, but it’s also fiddly. Check out this video for a great guide on the Holee mod:
If all else fails, you can also simply change the stabilizers on your keyboard for better, higher-quality ones. However, you’ll still have to do some light modding on even the best keyboard stabilizers, so don’t think that buying a new set means you won’t have to do any of these tasks.
8. Lube Your Switches
Another way of upgrading your switches is to lube them for increased smoothness. This simple but tedious task involves dismantling your keyboard switches using a switch opener and applying lube to them one by one. But the results can be astounding, turning scratchy and loud stock switches into quieter, smoother ones that feel significantly more expensive than they are.
Most users also apply switch films during the lubing process. Switch films go in between the top and bottom housings to reduce switch wobble. They can sometimes improve the sound and feel of a switch, too, so they’re worth trying out.
Lubing is too complicated to explain quickly, so head over to our switch lubing guide for all the necessary tools, information, and procedures.
Modding your mechanical keyboard may seem intimidating, especially if you’re new to the hobby. But it’s not as bad as it may seem; even the most challenging mods are doable without prior experience, provided you have the patience (and the right tools).
Changing keycaps and switches will likely impact your typing experience the most. They’re also the easiest, especially with a hot-swappable keyboard. Hence, those are the mods we’d recommend you try first. Once you feel more confident, stabilizer mods and the foam or tape mods (or both!) are likely the ones you’ll want to try out next.
Want to build a keyboard from scratch with some of these mods? Check out our list of the best DIY keyboards.