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Refurbishing NES / Famicom controllers in 2013

Tue. July 9, 2013
Categories: Game Consoles, Hardware


For many years after Nintendo has stopped producing NES and Famicom controllers, people have found that their buttons get worn out and do not work as well as they used to. The problem is typically one of two things: the contacts are dirty, and the rubber pad responsible for all of the springing action inside the controller has cracked.

Problem #1 is easy to fix: isopropyl rubbing alcohol on both the rubber pad and the controller PCB’s contact points will get the nasty dirt off of there (and can also be used to fix a humming Famicom microphone slider on controller #2).

Unfortunately, the rubber pads problem is a much larger one. Here is what a very old pad may look like (warning: graphic)

The good news is that not long ago someone started producing replacement pads. Brand new ones! The “solution” for a long time was to steal parts from pads that are still good, or get a new controller. For users of the Japanese Famicom system, this meant stealing the less-used Player 2 D-pad and buttons. However, as of today, finding such a thing is not as easy as it used to be.
Here is a comparison of the old crusty pad I am replacing, and the brand new one.

Immediately concerns are raised about build quality; it is clear that the cutting process for those minor cost-saving holes in the pad is not very accurate. Still, it is brand new, and better than what we had before… right?
I installed it, with great expectations.

Those expectations were dashed swiftly, with the coldness and precision that only a heartless, cheap-goods factory manager is able to procure.

Performance was pitiful. I have tried cleaning it, even applying abrasion to the PCB contacts to no avail. You have to mash the pad in for it to register a direction. This is worse than the old one!
The issue does not lie in build quality. No, it is rather a massive design failure. Whether or not it was done this way out of sheer ignorance, or cost saving somehow, I do not know, but the d-pad hardly registers. The reason is simple: the original contacts were flat, to hit the PCB evenly, while the new ones are rounded, which means only the very tip makes contact unless you mash it in, which makes it squish down.


Fortunately, I took a break at this point and got a nice cool drink…
…of water; I am only 20.
I then thought that a solution must be found – my Famicom controllers won’t last forever with their current pads and new replacements must be possible. I have found a very good solution that makes the pad feel good as new. Using a pair of diagonal cutters, I have cut out just the very center of the contact pad. This way, the bulge of the rounded pad is not so pronounced, and the pad connects to the PCB in somewhat of a doughnut shape, which does a much better job.


Until someone produces better replacements, this is a suitable way to make do with what we have. The A/B buttons and start/select pair were totally fine, so fortunately there are no complaints there. Now it is time for this Famicom to live an additional thirty years!

11 Responses to “Refurbishing NES / Famicom controllers in 2013”

  1. Hackaday Links: Sunday, July 14th, 2013 Says:

    [...] Wanting to repair his much-used NES controllers [Michael Moffitt] sourced a replacement for the rubber button pads. They didn’t work all that well but he fixed that by using angle clippers on the part that contacts the PCB traces. [...]

  2. rndm(mod) » Hackaday Links: Sunday, July 14th, 2013 Says:

    [...] Wanting to repair his much-used NES controllers [Michael Moffitt] sourced a replacement for the rubber button pads. They didn’t work all that well but he fixed that by using angle clippers on the part that contacts the PCB traces. [...]

  3. Hackaday Links: Sunday, July 14th, 2013 - RaspberryPiBoards Says:

    [...] Wanting to repair his much-used NES controllers [Michael Moffitt] sourced a replacement for the rubber button pads. They didn’t work all that well but he fixed that by using angle clippers on the part that contacts the PCB traces. [...]

  4. echodelta Says:

    I wonder how many cassette decks were trashed from alcohol cleaning of the pressure roller. Label tapes even fostered this. I know of one friends deck he trashed with alcohol. I had to replace the roller. It turned to sticky goo. First it just caused bad flutter, then jam. I do know how many music keyboards have been trashed!
    Most rubber will decompose if cleaned with this stuff. In cleaning musical keyboards I use Naphtha only. On the rubbers I use water and a fine count rag. They last, unless somebody has been in there with something else. Then it is trashed, as most of those over 10 years old aren’t available. Vintage instruments are loved but useless. What gets in there is drinks and watered dirt. Some key pounders do wear down the carbon impregnated rubbers. I have rubbed graphite into the rubber, it works great but don’t last. Someone on the web sells 3M self-adhesive dots that they punch out $$$. I can’t find it on 3M’s site. And I wonder if anything will stick to silicone including conductive paints.
    Your case with game controllers is also with the actual mashing of the surround, kinda like speaker rot. Cleaned, a thin repair with silicone should work. I don’t play games but when I did, anything without a real joystick was no joy. So the right thing to do is get rid of that tiny “plus” button crap. Using 2 halves of brain and 2 hands to move and fire sucks. Yet alone being forced to be a leftie. I have also buzzed the surface with a Dremel diamond wheel, to restore the conductive surface. This is the way to do what you have done. Hope this info helps.

  5. Hackaday Links: Sunday, July 14th, 2013 | Orange Claymore Red Slime Says:

    [...] Wanting to repair his much-used NES controllers [Michael Moffitt] sourced a replacement for the rubber button pads. They didn’t work all that well but he fixed that by using angle clippers on the part that contacts the PCB traces. [...]

  6. mikejmoffitt Says:

    I appreciate the forewarning, but I can verify the alcohol does not dissolve these silicone pads. The repair with silicone would be much like re-foaming a speaker, but this is at such a small scale and price that it is not really worth the time investment as it would take a good deal of effort to do an accurate long-lasting job.

  7. Hackaday Links: Sunday, July 14th, 2013 | Make, Electronics projects, electronic Circuits, DIY projects, Microcontroller Projects - makeelectronic.com Says:

    [...] Absent to patch hellos many-secondhand NES controllers [Michael Moffitt] sourced a substitute for the rubber fastener tablets. They didn’t process sum that well nevertheless he resolute that by using standpoint clippers on the piece that junctions the PCB remnants. [...]

  8. HC Says:

    If you want a flatter surface, I would suggest running the pad over fine sandpaper laid on your desk.

  9. ApolloBoy Says:

    I’d suggest adding some adhesive foil on the contact pads to improve the connectivity, it’s worked out great for me when repairing Atari 5200 controllers and it’ll work fine on NES/Famicom controllers.

  10. Wyatt Says:

    So how exactly did you get your famicom? I’m jealous and don’t want to spend a fortune on getting one.

  11. mikejmoffitt Says:

    I buy them broken for usually ~30 USD and fix them.

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