Introduction: Xbox 360 Wireless Controller Ring of Light

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…

Customize the four player indicators on your Xbox 360 wireless controller by removing the stock LEDs and replacing them with any color of your choosing. I've received a lot of requests for this guide, which will show how to dismantle and upgrade an official Microsoft controller.

***Disclaimer: I am not liable for any damage that may be caused to your property or self from following the instructions in this tutorial. Soldering irons can be very hot and cause burns, as well as possibly break your Xbox 360 controller. Opening your controller's shell will void its warranty. If you are unfamiliar with soldering I suggest you acquire some practice on blank boards before attempting this mod, as the LEDs are quite small. ***

Step 1: Supplies

The parts list for this project is small and fairly cheap.

Soldering Iron: Your generic 10-15 Watt Radioshack soldering iron, available for about $15. Though not necessary, for small projects like this I take a metal file and sharpen my soldering iron to a fine point. It will make the install much easier.

Silver Rosin Solder: Also available at Radioshack, silver solder more evenly distributes heat, and rosin creates a clean bond between two metals. Around $3.

Copper Desoldering Braid: This thin wire braid will absorb solder when placed inbetween the soldering iron and a terminal that needs to be cleaned. Necessary to create a flat base for the LED to sit on, makes the install much easier and can fix mistakes. $3.

Xbox 360 Wireless/Wired Controller: Microsoft controllers are available at any store that sells video game equipment. Retails for $50.

SMD 0603 LEDs: You can select whatever colors you wish for this mod, this instructable uses four blue 0603s. I would encourage you to purchase the brightest mcd rating you can find, the difference between a dim (120mcd) and a bright (400mcd) 0603 is around 10 cents per LED and worth the extra cost. Though you will only need four for this mod, purchase 8-10, these lights are so small you are going to lose some no matter how careful you are. Here are my recommendations from

Red 500mcd, $0.33/LED (800mcd are available on eBay).
Yellow/Amber 130mcd, $0.22/LED (350mcd are available on eBay)
Blue 380mcd, $0.34/LED (800mcd are available on eBay).
Green 200mcd, $0.39/LED (1000mcd are available on eBay).
White 800mcd, $0.38/LED (2500mcd are available on eBay).

My favorite eBay sellers for LEDs are HKJE LED Lamp Center and Light of Victory Hi-Tech LED Store.

Security Torx T8H: Xbox 360 controllers have security screws, meaning there is a pin sticking out of the center of the screw that prevents a normal T8 Torx from fitting in. If you are cheap or don't want to wait, get an awl or a very small flathead screwdriver, and crack off the pin with a good whack from a hammer, letting you then use a normal Torx driver. I suggest purchasing your T8H screwdriver from High Quality $7.99 and Low Quality $2.48

Tweezers: Absolutely necessary to hold the very small SMD 0603s. Try to purchase tweezers with the flattest edge you can find, round endings will cause the LED to shoot outward when you tighten around it. Around $3-5 at any local store like Walgreens.

Step 2: Dismantling the Controller

Remove the Screws
There are seven screws holding the rear shell onto the controller. Three on each side, and one underneath the bar-code sticker under the battery pack. Opening this controller will void your controller's warranty - as if it meant anything. Unscrew the seven screws and place them where you won't lose them. If you wish, stick the screws to a strip of duct tape. Just pull the rear shell from the front and it should pop off. Lift out the two rumble motors and the controller mainboard. There is no reason to remove the buttons or bumper pads, all we need is those LEDs.

Remove the Motors
The rumble motors will just get in the way of this install, and are not necessary for the controller to function. There are two wires (red=positive, black=negative) connected to a clip which is inserted into a holder. Grip the insert on the sides and wiggle it out. Be gentle, these wires are prone to breaking and you should only pull on the insert itself. If you break a wire, just solder it back together and wrap your splice in electrical tape.

Step 3: Floating LEDs

Microsoft uses a very clean process to solder the 0603 LEDs to the mainboard, there is so little solder that we have to add our own to remove the LEDs. This is a process called floating, applying excess solder to the iron, and then touching it to the terminals of the LED.

Knowledge is Power (Tips to prevent a failure)
These parts are very small and fragile, you need to take this mod slowly to complete it successfully. I am only able to complete this mod laying on my chest, as it stabilizes my arms. It is impossible to complete this mod if you are frustrated, as your adrenaline and blood pressure will cause your fingers to shake, if you need to, take a 5 minute break. The 0603 LEDs are attached to terminals on the board. A trace (the gold wire lines that connect everything together) is punched through the protective coating of the mainboard and soldered to little metal squares called terminals. Do not touch your soldering iron to these terminals for more than 2 seconds at a time. Excess heat will cause the glue holding them to the board to melt off, leaving you no where to solder your LED to. Try to only contact the terminal itself, as the protective coating covering the traces can become brown and cooked, making it very difficult to fix a light if you already removed a terminal.

Floating Procedure
Apply a small amount of solder to the tip of your iron, enough to apply to both terminals. Tap your soldering iron back and forth between the LED terminals, the goal being to have them both heated at the same time. Removing the LED should require no physical force, they will "float" away on their own when both terminals are hot. View this YouTube video to see how I do it. Once all four LEDs have been removed, put your soldering braid on top of the terminals, and press the iron on top of the braid, it will soak up any excess solder, leaving a clean terminal ready for a new LED.

YouTube Video:

Step 4: Adding the SMDs

Time to put your own colored 0603 SMDs onto the mainboard.

Polarity Problems
For these LEDs there are two ends, a positive and negative. If the LED is backwards, it simply won't turn on. If it is correctly connected it will light up when you power on the controller. Microsoft seems to like changing the markings for every 360 controller mainboard. The marking used always identifies the negative terminal. The markings I have seen are either a white circle, a green arrow (on this controller), or just the LED location (D1, D2, D3, D4). Worst come to worst, there are only two directions to install the LED, one of them will light up. In general Player 2, 3, and 4 the negatives are on the clockwise end, while Player 1 has the negative on the counter-clockwise end. Every controller seems to be different.

SMD Markings
The 0603 SMD LEDs have markings that also denote the negative terminal. I have attached a picture below showing the three markings used.

Installing Your SMD
Decide upon the LED you are going to replace. Line up the LED and grip it on the sides with your tweezers, not too hard or you can crack the LED, making that LED useless. Applying too much heat to the LED can toast the wire inside, causing it to light up very brightly and become a dud. Use short exposure times (Under 2 seconds). An oddity with this mod is some tweezers can build up a static charge that fries the LEDs, before picking them up, just tap your tweezers to a block of metal (only needs to be done once to remove the initial charge).

To install your SMD to the mainboard, apply a small dab of solder to your iron, while using the tweezers to position your LED over the terminals, solder one of the terminals correctly (usually the negative to the negative). One bond will hold it in place, making it easy to connect the other. You can now reassemble the controller (except for the motors and screws), reinsert the battery pack, and hit the power on button. Normally all four LEDs blink when you turn on a controller, hopefully it will turn on. If it doesn't, either the LED is not soldered to both terminals, is soldered backwards, or the controller isn't put back together properly (the power button can't reach the board). After each LED has been soldered, wipe off the excess solder on your iron with a wet sponge or towel. When it lights up, repeat the process for all four terminals.

Step 5: How to Fix Broken Terminals

If your controller has all four lights working, skip this step.

Some users are going to accidentally destroy a terminal, it just happens. The primary way this occurs is touching the iron to the terminal for too long, causing the glue holding it to the mainboard to melt and the terminal to flake off. The other occurance is when tapping between the terminals to float off the LED, a modder tried to push the LED off instead of letting it float away and ripped out the entire LED with terminals still attached. Here is how you fix it.

The wires on PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) are called traces, very angled gold wires that are printed onto the board, and covered with a hard but thin plastic layer to prevent any short circuits. Whenever you see a hole punched through a board or a terminal, that trace has come through the plastic layer to make a connection. The trace is what is transmitting the electricity, and the terminal is simply an oversized and convenient location to access that power. We can tap into the trace, but the terminal cannot be reattached.

Removing the Protection
We need to remove the 0.2mm thick plastic coating over the trace that goes to our terminal. You can identify the correct trace by visually following the line that goes to the now-missing terminal. I personally use an extendable X-Acto knife (they are yellow/black and have a ton of notches, I usually buy them from hardware stores like OSH, Lowes, or Home Depot, though you can pick them up from Wal-Mart and craft stores), and very lightly scrape the blade sideways over the trace. It's better to use many light scrapes than a few medium scrapes.

Eventually, you will see the trace appear much brighter/shiny, since it is now exposed. Apply a blob of solder to your iron, and move it up and down the trace until you see some stick (the line has changed from gold-colored to silver).

Making the Connection
There are two ways to connect your LED leg to your trace.

1. The first, and my favorite, is to create a solder bridge. Solder does not heat evenly, and you can effectively drag a large amount of solder into a very-messy, but durable, wire. When solder reaches about 180-190 C, it becomes molten, and is very viscous. When it is around 150-170 C, it can still transmit heat, and be semi-stiff/slushy. We need to take advantage of this, and by applying a very large amount of solder to your LED leg, you're going to semi-rapidly drag it in the direction of the trace. Drag it in little, short bursts, near the end of how far your bridge has come. An excess of solder on the iron is necessary, to provide the extra material that will form the wire. It's ok if it is on top of the board, since that plastic layer protects all the other traces. Once you have dragged the solder bridge over to the trace, it should stick and the LED should turn on. It's annoying, and tedious, but it works.

2. The second method I only use if a trace has become truly destroyed. That the distance from where I can scrape off some of the trace and connect it to the LED leg is too large (over 1"). This is where I use a very tiny wire, anywhere from 26-30 AWG thickness. It's the same process as before, you're going to be soldering the ends of the wire to the trace and LED leg. The wire is fragile, and it's connections are fragile. Since the wire can bend and is semi-stiff, it can apply flexion and tear off the trace if you bump into it too hard. Once you get an end of your wire to stick, apply a very thin slice of electrical tape over the wire, this just keeps it from wiggling around, and helps a lot to prevent it from ever tearing off the trace.

I hope that you can get any broken LED terminals to be repaired and enjoy your lights. In almost all cases a missing terminal can be worked around with the solder bridge, I've never seen a case where the very thin wire could not tap into a power source, further down the trace if need be.

Step 6: Completion

Hopefully your controller has all four player indicators able to turn on, just reassemble your controller so that everything fits together properly. The parts are rather tight fitting, and you don't want any large gaps between the front and rear shells, the most common reason for gaps is the bumper pads and base plate (gray curve for the bottom) are misaligned.

I hope you've enjoyed this instructable and learned a lot, enjoy many nights of gaming!