Introduction: Light Up a Xbox Controller With LEDs

About: I have a passion for tweaking things. Whether it be modding video game consoles, creating custom laser displays, or any creations with lights I love solving problems through unorthodox means. I like to go whe…

This instructable sets out to light up the four A,B,X,Y buttons and jewel of an original Xbox Controller-S.

To complete this project, being comfortable with a soldering iron is recommended. Even if you are not experienced in soldering but would like to learn, read up on these guides and feel free to do this mod.

How to Solder
How to Wire LEDs

This guide teaches with words as well as pictures, almost all of which have comments to help clarify what is going on during the install.

This can be a tedious install, as tolerances inside of a Xbox controller are relatively tight, the pieces are small, and expect each controller to take anywhere from 2-3 hours depending on how skilled you are. In this guide I use slow-fading RGB (Red, Green, Blue) LEDs, though any combination of colors can be used for your lighting choice.

I hope you enjoy this instructable, and are able to modify your Xbox controller to light up many nights of gaming.

*** I am not liable for any personal damage or injury that occurs from following this tutorial. You will be working with electricity (Very low voltage) and hot tools (soldering iron & hot glue gun). If you destroy your controller you will just have to spend $10 on a new one ***

Step 1: Getting the Supplies

The tools needed are:

3mm LEDs - There are quite a few options for color selection. White for all four buttons. Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow: one color per button. All four a single solid color. Or in the case of this instructable: all RGB Slow Fade. The more colors you have, the more difficult it can become to manage the wires as each species of led can require its own voltage, and thus its own resistor. You will also want LEDs of at least 5,000mcd for this project, the brighter the better.

***Purchasing LEDs***
Buying LEDs from retail stores is very expensive with inferior light capacity and quality. Through the internet, namely eBay, you can purchase large amounts of high quality LEDs for extremely low prices. I bought 50x 3mm RGB LEDs for $15 including shipping and tax. Excellent sellers are hktaiyuen, jledhk, and LED HK. After completing this mod multiple times, I now recommend using either 4 white LEDs for the buttons, or if possible, four separate colors, one for each matching colored button (Red, Green, Blue, Yellow/Amber). The slow-fade RGBs become de-synced with time in their color switching, and end up looking ugly due to color opposites canceling out light (red light emitting and being absorbed by its opposite color in the green button for example).

Resistors (Cheap) - This project will require resistors. You will need to calculate the level of resistance needed (in Ohms) based upon how you wire your LEDs to the controller mainboard. As I have four identical LEDs, I have opted for parallel wiring which requires only one resistor. Use ledcalc to determine your solution.

Soldering Iron (15-30 watts, ~$15) - Any cheap heat based soldering iron will do.

Solder ($5) - I recommend silver solder with a rosin core, the silver helps create a strong joint while the rosin helps flow into a clean connection.

Needle nose Pliers ($8) - Used for bending the legs of LEDs and assisting in holding parts.

Wire Clippers ($6) - Used to cut the legs of LEDs, resistors, and lengths of wire.

Electrical Tape ($3) - Protects exposed wires from connecting to anything else in the controller.

Power Drill with Drill Bits - Necessary for creating holes in buttons for LED legs, and shaping the controller casing to fit the modified buttons.

Hot Glue Gun and Sticks ($10)- Used to electrically insulate connections and keep parts from moving around. Works great for small electronics as it doesn't conduct electricity.

Wire - This depends on preference. For this guide I used 30 AWG (extremely fine) wire purchased from the llamma store. Looking back now (Jan 2009), and having experience with using these controllers and the wires snapping, and having to reinstall them, I now recommend using 22-24 AWG wire. As a bonus, 24 AWG wire is easily found in the common ethernet cable. Since not much is needed for a single controller, you can simply cut off the sheathing of any CAT5e and take out the insides; the wires are far more durable than 30AWG.

Step 2: Disassembling the Controller

The Xbox Controller-S is designed to be taken apart, and is easily opened with a regular small-sized Philips screwdriver. There are 7 screws on the controller casing, three on each side, and one underneath the middle sticker, removing this sticker voids the controller warranty, though if you're about to mod it it doesn't matter anyway.

Screws are highlighted in picture below, either tear off the middle sticker or use an Xacto knife to cut around the hole (you can feel it with your finger).

Remove the bottom shell and place it to the side. After that, slide the rumble motor adapters off of the mainboard, they are fragile and you can tear out the wires by pulling on them, grab the connector itself. If you accidentally tear out a wire, you can always solder it back on.

Lift out the mainboard and remove the button cover over the A, B, X, Y, White, and Black buttons.

Remove the buttons and its time to do some surgery.

Step 3: Drilling the Buttons

Before you drill, view the picture below to see the direction the holes should face. This is the optimal layout for the LED legs and will prevent wires from getting tangled.

Each button will have two holes drilled into the side of it for each leg of your LED. Use the smallest drill bit you have and space out the holes to prevent the legs from touching one another. If the legs end up touching one another, the LED will not turn on.

In the center of each button there are four pillars, and attached to each of those is a thin plate of plastic (see secondary photos). Our goal is to remove these plates and make room for a LED to fit inside of the button. Your LED and wiring should remain below the four pillars, as these are what press the button down. Do not drill too far down as you can damage the base of the button where the letter is located, and possibly crack the letter.

Select a drill bit about the width of your 3mm LED and drill straight down into the button and remove the four plates. After having drilled the button there will be many shavings inside that prevent light from glowing through the button, clean it by blowing into it and scrape out chunks with a small tool (I used my smallest drill bit).

Repeat for all four buttons according to their direction in the picture below.

Step 4: Attaching the LED

With the center of the button properly drilled out, it is time to install the LED into the button housing.

Stick your LED into the button, and eyeball the distance from the base of the LED to the top of the four pillars. Bend your LED legs below this distance at a sharp angle, and place the legs through the two holes. To keep things simple, always have the positive leg of the leg facing towards the top of the controller (view the button letter to see the correct orientation).

You will have to push, bend, and squeeze the led into the button, and once the LED base is in the center of the button, jam it into the bottom of the button with a small tool or one end of your needle nose pliers. The wires and LED should be past the pillars which will prevent accidental presses.

If you have a 3v button cell battery test to make sure the LED turns on. When you are confident it works, stick the nozzle of the hot glue gun into the button and pull the trigger, locking the LED and its legs in place. But be sure not to get glue on top of the pillars.

Step 5: Milling Out the Casing

The legs for our LEDs were not designed for the controller, and prevent them going into their respective slots. We will be using a power drill and a large bit to remove the casing that gets in the way of the legs.

Just try to place a button in its respective slot, and remove any casing where the legs would go. Press the drill bit sideways against the casing to remove plastic. The button should be able to rest in its slot without the legs touching any part of the casing or impeding its movement. If you have a pair of wire cutters it can help to cut the casing after drilling. Repeat for all four buttons, the pictures below should help.

Step 6: Wiring the LEDs

Now comes the difficult part, soldering the wires to their respective legs on the LEDs.

Each LED has a positive and negative leg, and as such different colors will help. I used a corresponding colored wire for each button, and all negative legs are black. As this is for a parallel install, all positive wires will be soldered together, as will all negatives.

Cut a length of wire for the positive leg of your LED, 4-5 inches should be enough. Then with a knife or wire strippers remove the sheathing on both ends of the wire. It is time to tin our wire and LED. Tinning is the process of applying solder to each piece that will be connected together. After having stripped the wire, add solder to the exposed core and add solder to the leg of the LED. Then you can solder the wire and leg together without requiring three hands.

Now do the same for all negative legs of the LEDs, preferably using a black wire to designate it is negative. Hold the wires at the base of the LED together, and carefully twist the positive and negative wires together, this will let us have control over where our wires go. After all negative wires have been attached, solder the four negative ends together, as well as the four positive ends together.

Testing You can touch the positive bundle and negative bundle to a button cell battery to see if all of the connections are solid.

Step 7: The Resistor

A resistor is used to lower the amount of current from a source of electricity into a level usable by the LEDs. You will need to use ledcalc to know what resistor you need for your setup. Different color LEDs can have different voltages. Some reds are 2.0 volts, some blues are 3.4v. If you use the same resistor for four different colored LEDs, some will be bright and others dim. If you can get all of the LEDs to have the same power requirements, great.

The best source for power in an Xbox Controller is the red 5v power source. My RGB LEDs require 3.4v and 25mA each. Parallel is used to minimize the amount of wires and resistors needed for an install, by placing more work on a single resistor (Meaning we need a higher maximum wattage rating for the resistor, but in the case of 5 LEDs it doesn't really matter). You can also use series for wiring, or each LED receiving its own resistor.

For my install, I required an 18 Ohm, 1/4 Wattage resistor as told by ledcalc (This is for a 5v supply, four 3.4v 25mA LEDs in parallel). The wattage rating is the maximum amount of heat the resistor can give off, you can have a far higher rating than required and still be fine, just don't overload the resistor.

The Power Source
If you look at where the controller cable attached to the mainboard, you will see many colored wires. Find the red wire (which should be at the bottom) and follow the pin to the other side. We will solder our resistor to this solder point.

With the needle nose pliers bend your resistor into shape, tin the end of it, and attach it to the solder point on the mainboard.

Wiring the Wires
As all of the positive wires have been soldered together, cut a large length of wire (6 inches) and solder it to the positive bundle. Mine is colored white, and has been attached to the other end of our resistor.

The black bundle should receive its own wire as well, only it will be wired to the negative solder point where the black wire comes through the mainboard (shown in picture).

You should now be able to plug the controller into the console, turn it on, and everything should light up!

Step 8: The Jewel (Optional)

At this point, if you are happy with the A, B, X, and Y buttons being lit up, you can hot glue your connections to secure/insulate them (see next page) and put your controller back together. If you are feeling adventurous, we will add a single LED to the jewel.

By no means do you need to use one LED, you can use any combination of lights you wish, but remember that different LEDs may require their own resistor. I chose a single LED as I already had the resistors on hand and it gets the job done.

Removing the Casing
We are going to remove the main casing underneath the Xbox controller jewel in order to let our LED light it up. I'm sure there is a better tool to use than a power drill, but its what I have on hand and has worked fairly well. Drill away into the casing until you hear a change in noise (from hitting the sticker) or see white (the underside of the jewel sticker). Keep removing plastic from the casing until there is a rim along the edge of the jewel. If you pop the jewel out, remove the entire jewel and apply hot glue on the surface of the casing and reattach it.

Another Resistor
Instead of using two separate resistors as I did, if all of your LEDs are identical you could select a resistor that supports five LEDs, instead of my unprepared 4 & 1 method.

I have attached a 68 Ohm resistor to the 5v supply, that supports a single 3.4v 25mA LED. The opposite end of this resistor has been soldered to the positive leg of the jewel LED, and the negative wire of the jewel LED has been attached to the negative bundle. The jewel LED itself has been hot glued to the casing to keep it in place.

You can test the controller to verify all the lights are working.

Step 9: Cleanup

Hopefully all of the lights turn on, the buttons can move relatively freely (it doesn't need to be perfect, as long as they are not firmly held in place, and press down normally it is acceptable), and our controller is ready to be cleaned up and put back together.

Hot glue is a miracle in small electronics, it is an electrical insulator, and you can pour it on where the resistors connect to the 5v supply, and any other exposed area. It will not short-circuit the mainboard and will keep electrical components from bumping into one another - which could prevent the lights from turning on.

Wrap some electrical tape around each wire bundle to prevent a short with anything else in the controller.

Put the controller back together in reverse order, making sure not to pinch (and possibly internally break) any wires (especially where the joysticks go through). Re-attach the rumble motors, align the controller cable into its slot, replace the rear cover, and put all of the screws back into the controller. It should feel just like it used to.

May you enjoy your newly lit Xbox controller and have many nights of gaming in the dark!

If you have any ideas on how to improve this instructable feel free to leave a comment or post what you've discovered. Help make instructables even better by sharing your knowledge.