Rebuilding an SNES Controller

Released in 1991 in the US, the SNES defined a generation of gaming – it’s also going on 30 years old! Time flies when you’re having fun.

All those years of fun also wear on the controller – mashing those buttons might K.O. your opponent in Clay Fighter, but is also takes a toll on the silicone membrane under those buttons.

Bad luck, or bad controller?

Game controllers are pretty basic devices. You press a button down, that in turn compresses a flexible, conductive, silicone membrane, which the makes an electrical connection which tells Mario to jump. Unfortunately that membrane can only flex and compress so many times before, like a worn out spring, it no longer returns to its old shape. This leads to mushy button presses, and in extreme cases even unresponsive buttons.

Fortunately the solution is simple, and easy. With a basic phillips head screw driver, an SNES Controller Rebuild Kit, and less than 10 minutes of effort, you can have your gamepad back in the game.

1. Disassemble

With the controller facing button-side down, remove the 6 phillips head screws and gently remove the back casing. Do be careful as there are a few small pieces inside, and you really don’t want to be chasing these around your desk and floor.

With the back casing removed, continue by removing all of the remaining internal components except for the D-pad and A, B, X, & Y buttons – those can remain. The controller should look like this now:

2. Re-assemble

Now we get to put it all back together again, but this time we’re going to replacing the existing silicone membranes with new ones. These replacement membranes are designed to fit exactly like their originals. With the exception of the membranes for the L & R shoulder buttons, each other membrane features a hole designed to correctly align (and retain in place) the membrane.

The above photos illustrate the correct placement, and highlight the location of the membrane retention holes.

Moving on, the next step is to re-attach the shoulder buttons. These attach to the main gamepad housing via a small metal rod. To re-attach these, first start by positioning the shoulder button in place, and then push the metal rod down into position.

Now insert the a new silicone membrane inside the cutout near the shoulder button. Notice the oreination and alignment of the membrane.

Before proceeding, check the shoulder button for proper alignment. It should articulate freely on the metal rod between the case housing and make contact with the membrane. There isn’t much in the way of “alignment” here, but it is possible to have it slightly crooked. If necessary, remove the metal rod and re-align the shoulder button before proceeding.

Repeat the previous step for the other shoulder button.

3. Last steps

You’re almost there – time to throw the circuit board back in and button it up.

The circuit board is aligned with various plastic columns, so there really isn’t a way to put this in wrong. Just ensure that you go straight down with it as to not disturb the membranes and everything should slide into place. As you have hopefully noticed, the shoulder buttons have their own separate (but connected) circuit boards. These should have slid into place align with the main circuit board, but it doesn’t hurt to double check that they’re pushed in all the way.

The penultimate step is to snake the controller cord around the plastic pegs at the top of the case. The cord is already formed to the correct shape from the decades of being a pretzel, so returning it to its place should be pretty simple.

Last, slap the back cover on and return those phillips screws to their original position – you’re done!

Time to fire up your SNES and test it out.



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