Rock Band Guitar Mod: Guitar Hero Buttons and Strum Bar




Introduction: Rock Band Guitar Mod: Guitar Hero Buttons and Strum Bar

About: I'm just this guy.

By cannibalizing a PS2 Guitar Hero Controller, I added all my favorite elements to my Xbox 360 Rock Band Controller: Raised buttons and mechanical switches for strum bar.

This mod results in increased functionality for my Rock Band Controller: The new buttons are smooth and responsive, they are wired into the bottom fret buttons, allowing automatic hammer-ons, and the strum bar is reliable and consistent, and complete with clicky feel and sound.

I completed this mod in a few hours, in between binge drinking, and reading depressing political commentary blogs. If I can do it, you can to!

You will Need:
One PS2 Gibson SG Controller, that is no longer loved.
One Rock Band Fender Controller, that was never loved like it deserved.

Dremel Compatible Rotary Tool, with sanding discs.
Soldering Iron
Electrical Tape
Phillips head screw drivers, of various sizes.
Hot glue gun, and at least 3 sticks of hot glue.
XTREME GLUE. I used Gorilla Glue, but you could use JB Weld, or shoegoo, or any other plastic holding mega glue with a warning label big enough.

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Step 1: Why Would You Do This?

This Tutorial was constructed for those of you who have an extra rock band controller lying around. I say extra, because When I play Rock Band, I exclusively use my Xplorer, and that of my friends. The Rock Band guitar's weak, often faulty strum bar, and the flat buttons make it relatively unpopular with my friends, and I believe, guitar heroes around the world.

But it Doesn't have to be that way! You paid for the thing, so why not put it to use! And not just as the bass guitar you make your girlfriend use.

Many, many of us have Guitar Hero from the PS2 days, and many of us have controllers that are no longer up to the task of play. My PS2 controller had a broken whammy bar that no amount of glue could fix.

Step 2: Cannabalize the PS2 Controller: Remove the Buttons

shamfully, I didn't take photos, so I ripped them out of other PS2 Guitar Hero mods on this site.
The process of opening the guitar, and removing the buttons is very clearly spelled out

It's time to take out all the goodies from the PS2 guitar hero controller. The parts are the same on an Xplorer, so the instructions are similar for the buttons, but the strum bar mechanics were "improved" so the switches are a single unit, instead of the two switches from the PS2 Gibson SG controller.

You will need to find your own switches at Radio Shack if you are killing an Xplorer or newer guitar for this mod. (Google Rock Band strum bar mod, and there are plenty of tutorials using commercially available switches).

Start by opening the guitar. Remove all the many many screws holding the thing together. Then open the neck.

Cut out The Buttons.
In the neck, you will see a circuit board screwed in top and bottom, to the row of colored buttons.

Unscrew the circuit board, and set it aside. It will be attached via gray, 6 wire ribbon cable, to the control board of the guitar.

While you're at it, unscrew the control board as well. The control board is the circuit board that they gray ribbon cable attaches to.

It may be easier to unscrew everything.

Using your soldering iron, heat up to contact points for the ribbon cable on the control board, heat them up one at a time, while gently pulling on the ribbon cable. The goal is to pull it out, with the wires in tact.

Once complete, you can set aside the Buttons Circuit board, and it's attached ribbon cable.

Take the front half of the neck of the guitar, remove the colored plastic buttons, then take it outside, or into the tub.

Cut the button section free from the neck.
You will want to cut it just above, and just below the screw holes for the Buttons Circuit Board. these screw holes will be vital to the structural integrity of the system.

Use a Dremel (or dremel compatible) multi-tool to sand down the ends of the piece. you will want to trim it as close as you can to the screw holes, without destroying the screw holes themselves.

The buttons are going to be a tight fit, so shave it close!

Step 3: Cannibalize the PS2 Controller: Remove the Mechanical Switches

Image ripped from another instructible.

The main control board is also host to the mechanical switches that allow the strum bar to work.

On the back side of it, you will see two prominent black boxes, with white switches that will produce a distinctive *click* when they are depressed.

These are what we want. That click is the sound of the switch making contact, and it is the reason so many people prefer the GH controller. Not just the sound, which is a matter of controversy, but the reliability of the mechanism.

Using the same method you used to remove the ribbon cable, solder the BACK side of the contact points for the switches, while tugging gently on the switch itself. each time the solder becomes liquid, the switch should come a little bit looser. Alternate back and for the between the two contact points.

Once both of them are liberated from their circuit board prison, set them aside safely.

You can now discard the gutted remains of the Ps2 controller. Go ahead, they aren't doing anyone any good, any more.

Step 4: Carving Out a Spot on the Rock Band Controller

Next up, you will be opening the Rock Band Guitar.
This process is very similar to the Guitar Hero Controller. Remove the screws on the back for the body, and the neck.

Save the screws! There are a lot of them, and they come in different sizes. I saved them by placing them back into the holes they came from, then putting masking tape over the holes to keep them in place.

Remove the two button control circuit boards. They are each held in place by four screws. This makes them quite a bit more secure than the GH button control circuit board.

Now Remove the BACK neck of the guitar from teh Guitar Body. Set it aside. This is for your convenience later. The back piece must not be cut, or else the guitar won't have any structural stability.

Take the front of the neck, and cut it just below the top buttons, and just above the bottom buttons. Then use your Dremel Compatible rotary tool to shave down the ends. You can leave the entire button assembly together, including the raised plastic ends that mark the start and stop of the buttons section, however, everything else needs to go. It's a tight fit, so be thorough.

When complete, you should be able to fit the guitar neck back together. I had a slight forced bend in the neck of my guitar. Though the piece fit, it was really tight.

The top fret buttons won't fit perfectly. Notice the gap. This is just how it goes. You will cover that over with electrical tape, and no one will be the wiser.

If you're adventurous, you might want to carve a little bit of plastic out of the raised end bumps. It might fit a little better, but you don't want to compromise the smooth action of any of your buttons.

Step 5: Connecting the PS2 Button Control Circuit Board: Mapping the Buttons on the PS2 Board

The first thing you need to do is look at the PS2 Gibson SG Button Control Circuit Board.
Make sure that you know which buttons lead to which wires.

There are 5 buttons, and 6 wires. One of those wires is the ground. Find it.
This is one wire that touches all of the buttons. It allows a circuit to be complete when one or more buttons are pressed.

In my model, it was pretty easy to trace the lines from the buttons to the wires.
HOWEVER, I understand there were many revisions of these guitars, and some are different.

Mistakes can be re soldered, but if you are careful, you can do it right the first time.

Step 6: Mapping the Buttons of the Rock Band Buttons

I chose to map our new buttons into the control board for the small buttons at the base of the guitar. This will give the new buttons the added ability of automatic hammer-ons and pull-offs during solo mode.

Look at the wires, and figure out how they are mapped.
Start with the Ground, then with red, green, yellow, and so on.

In this case, the ground has a SQUARE contact on the board, and all the buttons had round contacts.

Attached is my wiring diagram. It's worth mentioning that I have a Launch Day Rock Band controller. The wiring may be different for different versions.
Remember, you can always re solder your errors, but if you check your work, you won't need to.

Step 7: Solder the PS2 GH Ribbon Cable to the Rock Band Button Control Board

Since the Rock Band ribbon cable is Soldered to the BACK of this circuit board, and probably covered over in hot glue (these guys LOVE hot glue), you may need to solder it on the front side of the board. (The side with the buttons.)

If so, you may need to cut the ribbon cable, so that the wires can be bent around the buttons.

One at a time, heat the solder contacts, and stick your ribbon cable wires in. It will probably be easier if you separate them all just a little.

Once they are in, It's time to test our handiwork!

Step 8: Test Your Buttons!

Attach your rock Band Controller and start up Rock Band in Practice Mode.
This won't penalize you for not strumming.

Press some buttons on the exposed circuit boards. They should all be working appropriately.

If it doesn't work at all, check your ground.

If some work, then check the wire lines in the circuit boards, and make sure you did it right.

With sharp eyes, you should be able to figure out which button is right.

Step 9: Trimming the Circuit Boards

Now that the plastic all fits, you're going to have to trim off excess circuit board.

Because their ribbon cables attach in the middle, the end parts of the Rock Band button Control Boards can easily be shaved away.

Go back to the tub, with your Dremel Compatible rotary tool.

Trim down the ends, as much as you can.

When Complete, reattach the bottom of the Front of the Neck to the guitar body.

Then Attach the BACK of the neck of the guitar to the guitar body.

Step 10: Managing the Wires

Now is a good time to mention: The people who made these controllers LOVE hot glue.
They use to to hold wires in place, they use it as an insulator, they use it to hold otherwise mobile contacts in place. It's everywhere.

So break out your hot glue gun, It's time to contribute!

Unfortunately, I didn't get photos of this part of the project, but I will describe it really well, okay?

There are a lot of wires in the way here, and what we want ultimately, is the PS2 button piece to fit snugly with the neck of the guitar. this means we have to get some of that cable out of the way.

I used Hot glue to affix the Rock Band ribbon cable to the wall of the bottom neck piece.

The Guitar Hero Cable was a little trickier.

I had to cut it in half down the center, to run half the wires on the right, and half the wires on the left. Use the hot glue to stick 'em in place. There will be plenty of slack that folds up right beneath the circuit board.

If I were to crack my guitar open again, and I will eventually, I would place spacer in between the screw holes on the neck of the Rock Band Guitar. Place a spacer here. Something running in between the screw holes, at about the same height, to support the center of the SG button control board, and reduce flex as you depress the buttons. A stack of electrical tape will be fine.This would provide additional support to the center buttons from the Gibson SG. A stack of electrical tape or a 2x6 flat lego piece should do the trick.

Step 11: Wedging the Guitar Hero Button Piece Into the Neck of the Rock Band Guitar

We're almost done with the "hard" part!

I put hard in quotes, because it's not actually too difficult, and it's all really low risk.
Of course, if this is your first time with a Dremel and a soldering iron, I bet you're working up a sweat! Don't worry so much, the real value of a project like this is the process, and the education it gives you!

Also, the ladies like a man (or a woman) with a custom GH controller.

Notice that the Guitar Hero circuit board still overlaps the spot in the guitar where it is supposed to fit.
This is okay. In fact, this is good. we will use that to ensure a tight fit.

At this point, I put a little hot glue over the ribbon cable connector solder points on the guitar hero button control board. We've been moving the wires around a lot, and I'd hate for those tiny cable ends to break from stress. the hot glue will hold it all in place for us. This is optional.

NOW, wedge the button control board from the PS2 Guitar Hero button set, UNDERNEATH the LOWER rock band button control board.
then lay the PS2 buttons flat on the neck of the guitar.

There will be a little overlap with the top. this is fine.

Gently separate the top Rock Band Fret Buttons from the Back of the neck, and wedge the overlapping guitar hero button control board in there. Check your fit. If you think it will help, try dremelling down a bit of the top of the GH button control board.

After this, it will stay in place pretty well. You may want to test teh buttons again at this point, to make sure nothing was pulled lose or cut.

Step 12: Seal the Neck of the Guitar!

Electrical Tape is your friend. Also, it's totally Punk-Rock.

Use a tight wrap of electrical tape around the two ends of the Guitar Hero Button Unit, and attach it to the back of the Rock Band Guitar Neck.

Then cover over the gaps in the neck of the guitar with additional tape.

Since you've got the tape out, why not decorate? it will actually clean up the appearance.

Step 13: Mechanical Switches! an Introduction.

Extra buttons are Great. Now you have a Rock Band guitar with 15 buttons. Your mom can never tell you again that you are a disappointment, and that all the money they spent on you in college was wasted. NEVER AGAIN.

But that's not good enough.

Maybe you want the Strum Bar on the controller to rock as hard as you do?

Enter Switchmod!

Step 14: Attach the Switches

This is your Rock Band Strum Bar. Rock it Back and forth, and notice the little metal contacts making,and breaking contact with almost every strum. This shoddy piece of engineering is why these things are so unpopular.

Let's fix it, shall we?

Take your PS2 Gibson SG Mechanical Strum switches, that were removed previously, and plunk them down on the plastic.

Line one up with the raised plastic piece, opposite the actual contacts.

line up the position where you will place teh switch. Move the strum bar to make sure it will have a smooth and consistent action.

Then lay a big glob of gorilla glue onto the body of the guitar, and place the switch over it.

With the switch in place, hot glue the sides. The Hot Glue dries quickly, and will make sure that the switch doesn't move as the gorilla glue dries, and expands.

Gorilla glue is GREAT. Just make sure you give it a few hours to dry completely.

Step 15: Connecting the New Switches

We are almost done. Soon you will have the attention and popularity you so crave!

Desolder the wires from the existing contact switches for the strum bar.

Because of their lengths (one can only reach the closest switch, the other can only reach the furthest switch), you will have to move the wires.

Move the strum up wires to the newly placed Strum Down Switch.

Move the strum down wires to the newly placed Strum Up Switch.

Solder them on. It doesn't matter which one (black or white) goes where. It's a simple switch.

Step 16: Switch the Wires!

Now that every thing is soldered, we have a little problem.
We just wired up to be down, and vica versa.

HOWEVER! Trace the lines back to the Rock Band Main Control board, and you will find a plug type connector there.

Unplug it, turn it over, and plug it back in. This will put the switches back in the proper order.
Problem solved!

Now, let's test it!

Step 17: Congradulations

Now, you are ready to pimp out your modded guitar. Throw on some of your old Guitar Hero stickers, put up a red octane logo, go crazy.

This is the start of a new life for you. Take this with you to work, if you have a job. If your office needs IT people, have them send me an email. Guitar Hero is mainstream now. Just touching it will make you more popular. Women will want to get to know you. If you are a lady, women will also want to get to know you. Be careful, this guitar is powerful.

This is my first instructible. I hope it was thorough enough for you to do this project yourself, but I will be very happy to make revisions and additions as necessary. Send me a message, and I will get back to you ASAP.


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    73 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Late to the party but RB4 is incoming. I did a similar mod with my RB1 fenders but my insides were different. I believe there were magnets in those strumbar posts and reed switches near them, very sloppy.

    I ended up ripping out the PCB and strumbar from the gibson and putting that in. I had to butcher the battery compartment and what not. Didnt own a dremel or any power tools so I sat there with nail clippers chopping it up. Then made custom washers from the screw hole pegs in t he gibson. good lord, thinking back I was a crack head.

    I definitely like this idea more, less destructive. I believe the gibson used clones of ALPS mechanical switches. Maybe I'll try a Cherry MX green switch or some such.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Late to the party but RB4 is coming. I did clicky strum bar man, I did it different. I ripped out the whole strumbar and PCB from the Gibson and mounted it in the Fender after ripping up the battery compartment that wasnt in use for RB1 fenders. Also I recall my strummer being different having magnets in those posts and a reed switch. I see they did eventually change that.

    So thanks for the different perspective of mounting the switches onto the body itself. I believe they used clones of ALPS mechanical switched. I don't want to butcher my new RB4 fender to high hell so this is definitely a better angle.

    Maybe I'll go with Cherry MX Green switches, just not sure how the size and aim would be. Decisions decisions.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    AAWEEEE!!!!! I wish I had read this instructable a week ago!! I Just traded my Ps2 guitar back to gamestop for a grand total of 2 Dollars!!! Wow... this would've been a much better idea!


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    The rockband buttons are very well built. Improvements in almost every regard. very smooth action, very consistent. However, they all feel exactly the same. My calloused man-hands can not feel the five microbumps that designate the middle button, and often, I find myself pressing the wrong keys, just when I start to rock out the hardest.

    Also, It's a game controller, not a guitar. So I like it to look like one.
    call me crazy, I like colored buttons :).


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    The new strum bar replaces the inconsistent, cheap rock band switches with the better, more responsive guitar hero ones.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    the rockband strum bars are really sensitive, you barely need to move it to strum, how far do you need to press the gh strum bar to strum?


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    An excellent question. you need a little more follow through with this mod to register a button press, but it's much more consistent. However! There is also more resistance. Some of my friends have complained that continuous play wears them out on that guitar. If I were to make a change to my design, I would mount the switches in a semi depressed (~1/8th) state, so reduce the strum distance.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    i played gh3 at gamestop. the strum bar is hard to hold and you have to push it in all the way.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Why didn't you just modify the Rock Band buttons with paint or something? ;P


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    The problem was not the appearance of the buttons, but the feel. Adding the PS2 buttons specifically, gives me a nice "old-school" feel. Plus, The PS2 guitar was what I had, and what I think a lot of people have, lying around.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not sure I know what you mean. Like, the plastic-y feel? I read what you said about the bumps on the middle button not helping much, but I would think you would have just altered the texture of the other buttons if that was the only problem.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    That's not a bad idea, but what it comes down to, is that when my friends and I play Rock Band, the Guitar Hero controller is the one everyone wants to use. This mod was designed to take all the elements of a guitar hero controller that make it preferable, and add that into the Rock Band controller, without losing any functionality.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    yeah I know what you mean I played rock band a while ago and I really decided I almost hated the controller.


    11 years ago on Step 17

    you're house is so small..


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    It's tiny. Did you notice the corn flakes? That and bacon flavored chocolate is all I have right now.