Controller Repairs

Disclaimer: I cannot be responsible for damages, monetary or otherwise, incurred by the use of these procedures. Anyone who attempts them does so solely at their own risk.

At one time or another everyone's committed that cardinal sin of game maintenance - drinking a soda pop near the equipment. (I do so on a regular basis.) But should any of this get on the controller, even if it works okay at first, down the road the buttons will start sticking as the sugar gums up the interior. There are a host of other causes of controller problems, too, like worn parts or cracked circuits. This guide will walk you through repairs.

When to attempt this fix
Although these methods will work on just about any controller, some devices aren't designed as well as others and may be difficult to get back together. Controllers I've been readily able to fix include:

  1. Atari 2600 standard joystick
  2. NES standard control pad
  3. SNES standard control pad
  4. SNES Asciipad (but watch those switches)
  5. Genesis standard control pad
  6. Genesis Arcade Power Stick
Generally these procedures will only work if the controller is displaying any of the following symptoms:
  1. One or more buttons (or the directional control) only responds part of the time or must be pressed very hard to get a response. This is the most easily remedied problem.
  2. One or more buttons (but preferably not all) never respond.
Sorry, but controllers where the buttons are scrambled around are beyond my expertise and probably more trouble to fix than they're worth.

What you'll need

  1. Screwdriver

What to do

  1. Remove the screws holding the controller together.
  2. Keep the side of the controller with the buttons facing downwards and lift off the back.
  3. Remove the main circuitboard and inspect it, then skip to the appropriate section below.

If there is dirt or corrosion on contacts:

  1. Mix a small amount of isopropyl alcohol with water or use Windex.
  2. Dip a cotton swab in the solution and rub off corrosion or dirt from circuitboard and rubber contacts.
  3. Skip to the final section.

If there are cracks in the circuit board:
A crack going across one of the circuits in the board can break the thin layer of copper under the plastic, preventing current from reaching a contact. Follow any circuits that look like they may be affected by a crack to see if they lead to one of the broken contacts. If so:

  1. Gently scratch the plastic coating away from the affected circuits around the crack to reveal the layer of copper beneath.
  2. Strip a small length of copper wire.
  3. Lay the wire across the crack, touching the exposed copper on both sides. Affix with Scotch tape.
  4. Skip to the final section.

Once appropriate repairs are completed:

  1. Plug the controller in (still open if you wish, you need only the circuit board and the voltage isn't sufficient to harm you or the controller) and insert a game appropriate for testing the contacts.
  2. Take any of the rubber inserts from the buttons and press the metal portion against each of the contacts. The game should respond appropriately. If not try repeating the above processes, but the controller may be a lost cause.
  3. If the contacts work properly replace the circuit board and any other parts, replace the controller's back, and reattach the screws. Test the controller again to make sure all the parts are back in place.

If you were successful, bravo! You just saved a chunk of plastic from the landfill and a chunk of change for a replacement controller. If you weren't, though, feel free to E-mail me and I'll help if I can. I've covered only the common situations here; any other problems will probably require a creative solution on your part. There are few occasions where taking spare parts from another defective controller won't help, that is, if you're lucky enough to find another of the same type. Good luck, and if you repair anything using these hints please let me know!

Copyright © 1997-1999 Jay McGavren. All Rights Reserved.