The Story:

The I love video games… Can’t help myself. I love sports games, I love platformers and I love retro systems. There’s not much about gaming that I dislike, other than first person shooters. I especially like maintaining older systems. Can’t really understand the psychology behind it, but there’s something in keeping an older piece of tech alive and going that’s very satisfying. The write-up I’m going to share today doesn’t involve an older system, just a piece of hardware that had seen some heavy abuse. An Xbox 360 wireless controller.

Within my stable of gaming consoles there is an Xbox 360 which I inherited piecemeal. The original console came from one of my Nephew’s friends, as well as the wireless controller. The console had a damaged drive, which I cannibalized from another 360 which came from that same Nephew’s ex-girlfriend’s house. Finally I replaced the hard drive, which was missing, with a new upgraded aftermarket piece. All in I think I spent less than $50. The console body was in really good shape. The controller though, while functioning, had a left trigger button that didn’t always work, had gnarled thumbsticks and was dirty as all hell.

The Fix:

Controllers get so much use that they really do need a periodic cleaning. Not just superficially mind you, I mean a good deep cleaning where the contact points are wiped off. It always amazes me how much grime and grease makes its way from our hands to the inside of the housing. The first step then is opening the controller up. Unfortunately gaming companies love to make this process difficult. As such most, if not all, consoles and peripherals will require some sort of proprietary tool. For the 360 controller you’ll need a screwdriver with an Xbox tri-star bit (eBoot T8 Screwdriver with Prying Tool for Xbox One Xbox 360 Controller and PS3).

Starting with the back of the controller there will be seven screws. Six will be clearly visible with three located on either side. The seventh screw will be found underneath the battery. With all the screws removed you can crack the housing apart. I find that keeping the controller orientated down helps to keep everything in place after the removal of the back cover. From here you can remove the main board. As you pull the board up you’ll notice that it’ll come out with thumbsticks and rumble motors. Take care of the rumble motors’ wiring as it can be rather thin.

With the controller flayed apart you can clean the contact points on the board as well as the points on the buttons. I find it easier to completely remove the buttons and give them a nice deep clean. Don’t worry about mixing them up when you reinstall, they can only go in their appropriate slot. The thumbpad will require a couple of extra steps to remove. It has a pair of screws and clips holding it in place. Make sure to recall the placement of the thumpad though as it can be installed with the incorrect orientation.

After cleaning it was time to address the two problem spots. New thumbsticks are incredibly affordable (Global Game Gear GGG0024 Black Xbox Thumbsticks (4 Pack)), usually costing only a couple of dollars. Once the board is removed the thumbsticks are very easy to change as you can just pull them off the old mount. You’ll notice that the replacement units I purchased are black, while the original Microsoft ones are grayish in color. If authenticity is your thing grey ones do exist, but the black ones are much more affordable. The trickier repair was the left trigger switch. After inspecting the switch it was clear what the issue was. The small plastic stud that protrudes from the rear of the switch that makes contact with the board was slightly worn. To bridge the gap that had been created I cut a small piece of rubberized plastic (I took it from a little mounting foot off an old router), and glued it to the stud. This effectively raised the height on the stud, placing it more in line to where the original had been. Placing the trigger button back on and squeezing, I was instantly rewarded with the familiar click of the button successfully engaging.

From there on out you simply need to reverse your steps to bring the controller back together. Take your time in cleaning the shell and all the little bits as they can get quite dirty and are somewhat difficult to clean given all the little nicks and crannies where they like to accumulate dirt.

The Result:

This is a super easy DIY which will give you a pristine, like new controller. Sure, you have to go out and get yourself the Xbox screwdriver, but it’s only a couple of bucks. Don’t try to wedge a flathead screwdriver into the screws if at all possible. You might be able to get a couple of screws out but ultimately you’ll be causing yourself more trouble than what it’s worth. Go get the right tools and bring back some of that new feel to your old console.

Useful Parts & Tools to Help you with this DIY Project: