Keyboard Hall of Shame
Researching the keyboard technology industry is a depressingly dead-end subject. While it’s true that there are inherent difficulties with so many companies having closed down, and so many engineers having retired or passed away, enough people from that era remain alive that willingness alone would bring with it considerable progress in itself. Unfortunately, too many people and too many organisations who could help, refuse to do so, often not responding at all. It would make all the difference in the world to find people and organisations willing to chip in and do their part to help out, but this is rare.
The amount of knowledge squandered and lost within the keyboard community alone is shocking, and by the end of the 2000s, a lot of community-held knowledge was little better than Chinese whispers, with no trace left of where the supposed facts came from or any indication of whether they were even accurate. The chief reason for the necessity in ceasing use of the term “switchplate” is that it was impossible to know how to apply the term outside of Alps SKCC/SKCL/SKCM switches, as the meaning of the term has become eternally lost. (The other reason was that it was also being used to refer to the mounting plate for the switches, which is what it sounded like it meant; the Alps contact assembly sandwich is not a “plate” and calling it one never made any sense to begin with. The equally strange “slider” for “plunger” appears to be a genuine Japanese term “スライダー”—suraidah—that can be found in the occasional Fujitsu patent and diagram, but thus far not in any Alps context; Alps used “ステム”—sutemu, “stem”—in their 1993 and 1994 catalogues.)
In one sense, the level of success attained to date in spite of unending setbacks is something of an achievement in itself, but with more willing individuals and organisations, and an enthusiast community willing to learn how to handle knowledge properly, the rate of progress could be so much greater. Sadly the failures to date may have resulted in irrecoverable losses, including losses of information already obtained, knowledge that should still be with us to this day (not least all the photographs that have been thrown away).
Corton actually have an envelope full of vintage keyboard literature on someone’s desk, that they were going to make available, and now they have decided to refuse to do so. Figuring out their product range is still possible but it will senselessly take far, far longer than necessary.
Creative are one of two companies who hold the key to understanding the Omron B3K family (as they chose Omron as the manufacturer of their PRES switch), and they are completely unwilling and unhelpful. On the plus side, with onboard audio, I never have to buy any of their stupid sound cards ever again.
Datacomp simply won’t talk to anyone at all. They get another failure point for using the trademark “ALPS” in the name of their switches, and a heap of them for having totally incorrect switch details on their website. Fortunately I was finally able to obtain some Datacomp switches via KBParadise.
There are still Alphameric-era staff working at Devlin, but Devlin refuse to permit anyone from Alphameric to say anything, thus squandering valuable knowledge.
Current workplace of former Cherry engineer Günter Murmann, who remained totally unresponsive to requests to reach him. Fortunately I was able to reach him in spite of this.
In 2014, I found out from him that he has the MEI Sabrecoil brochure as well as an MEI keycap brochure. Although he is still around, he consistently refuses to respond, including via an intermediary.
According to his Keyboard and keyswitches at the Apple II, II+, //e page, there are some strange and unusual switches to be found in Apple keyboards. However, the are no photos, and no links to anywhere where you might find one. This is not a big deal in itself, but he is yet another website owner with no contact details (except for posting an actual letter to Germany). The site itself has since died.
Metadot are one of the stupidest companies I have ever encountered. The idea that their Gamma Zulu switches might have an Omron part number is completely beyond their comprenhension (even after pointing out that the part number is written on the switch). Together with Creative’s obstinance, attempts to understand B3K were significantly hampered by these miserable companies. (It was not a huge surprise then to subsequently come across this Reddit posting.) Fortunately progress has been made in spite of this.
Omron let Linus Tech Tips and HardwareCanucks each have a keyswitch production factory tour (in 2015 and 2019 respectively) from which the whole world was able to see their production line, but they refuse to tell me a single thing, not even about products they no longer make.
For being totally unresponsive to enquiries, which is particularly frustrating because they were the primary user of the “contact blade small” style switches that remain unproven to be Himake. (They are the only major company who used those switches besides Monterey who are still in business.)
Another obstinate and impossible to deal with company. It proved impossible to make any progress at all with them.
GMK acquired Cherry’s doubleshoot tooling, behind which there should be an interesting story, as well as date confirmations. GMK have consistently refused to respond.
Internet searches would have you believe that a huge amount of valuable parts are available for sale. In reality, most suppliers on the Internet have outdated and generally deceptive stock lists. A few will try to obtain the parts, but most will not respond or inform you that they don’t sell any of the parts they appeared to have. The following suppliers are a waste of time:
If you want to spend $10,000 to find out what Alps SKCLAC looks like ($100/piece, MOQ 100) be my guest.
Asian supplier Tyro teQ had some rare Alps types listed, but proved to be completely impossible to deal with, and in the end it was never actually clear what parts they really did stock or have access to. A whole load of hassle that ended in failure.
Complete time wasters
Unresponsive and likely do not stock any of what they claim to.
All but one of their many NOS keyboard switch types can only be dug out in person as they will not list them on their website; they are also completely unresponsive.
You will be ignored, as they lack even the courtesy to respond (it took an international telephone call to elicit an admission), and they have no interest; they are part of the Big Boys’ Club™ and hobbyists are unwelcome entrants.
All too often, it feels like the only activity that would yield less co-operation from other individuals and organisations is law enforcement or bailiffs.
- Sasse: it’s not clear what they do and don’t still know, as they are not helpful
- Don Lancaster, a designer of 1970s hobbyist-level keyboards who refuses to offer intelligent conversation
- Pericom: the only known organisation to have bought Cortron low-profile ferrite core switches and made their own keyboard with them, who became unresponsive before any progress was made in learning anything
- BG-Electronics (tried to get a photograph of the packaging for some switches they supplied, showing the part number for proper confirmation)
- Martin Keegan from Radwell: consistently failed to acknowledge requests to use some photos he supplied
- Key Tronic: they answer the phone and seem friendly, but no-one you e-mail ever responds
The following people and organisations are completely unresponsive despite repeated attempts to communicate with them:
- Scanvægt, who once manufactured a keyboard with custom MEI T-5 switches (four attempts from 2019–21)
- Datacal, who appear to be the “Daracal” from whom someone on KBDMania obtained Cherry MY actuator part MY1A-21NC (six attempts from 2016–21)
- Akihabara Beep
- BigKeys: well-known for using Alps SKBM switches, and thus an interesting line of enquiry (seven attempts from 2016–21)
- Wong’s of Hong Kong
- The former Clare and Pendar employees in France; of every single one contacted via a French site, not a single one ever responded
- Eric Muller, son of the late Mike Muller from Datanetics/Keyboard Company, who refuses to say anything about his father
- Kaseda: Mitsuyoshi Kaseda worked for both SMK and Hirose Cherry
- Endicott coil
- Anthea Lee/Saturn Computers: consistently refused to acknowledge confirmation requests for the part number of the Siemens STB 21 switches on sale (they must know, as they know the first five digits) (eight failed attempts from 2021–22)
- iONE (four attempts, 2018-22)
- Orbit Instrument
- Shinden (seven attempts, 2021–22)
- Dempa (Japanese publisher), after enquiring about access to back issues of JEE