My new book is out on Amazon. Game Boy Modding and Repairs is something I have been working on for about five months, one of my secret projects during the Covid Lockdown.
It’s an e-book for anybody that wants to learn how to modify and repair the classic Nintendo Game Boy handheld console, with no-nonsense, illustrated detailed guides to the most common mods for improved video and sound. Also lots of solutions to the most common problems for the old DMG-01.
Check it out if you want to learn just about everything I know about modding Game Boys. All the do’s and don’ts, all the little tips and tricks I wished I knew when I started out five or so years ago.
Everything covered in my book:
Game Boy Overview
Tools & Supplies
Sourcing a Game Boy
How To Clean a Game Boy
Modding Without Soldering
How To Solder a Game Boy
The Backlight Mod
The Bivert Mod
The Decoupling Capacitor Mod
The Pro Sound Mod
The Bass Mod
Aftermarket Clear Shell Mod
Game Boy won’t start
The logo is scrambled
Game Boy starts but the screen is blank
Battery leaks and other corrosion
Screen flickers when turning the contrast wheel
Screen is weak, lacks contrast, or flickers sometimes
Black spots on the screen
Small faded spots in the screen
Scratches on the screen or the screen cover
Sound crackles when adjusting the volume
Sound is distorted or weak
No sound when using headphones
The D-pad or buttons doesn’t work
D-pad and buttons are hard to press
Problems after installing a backlight:
Areas with different brightness
Graphics doesn’t look sharp
Graphics looks inverted
Screen doesn’t work or is flickering a lot
One or several air bubbles
Bivert chip problems
When nothing else works
The thing is, I was going to update this page since it’s the single most visited page on my site. But as I kept writing it became larger and larger, because I wanted to cover all the tips and tricks that I have learned over the years. After a while, I had written so much and taken so many new photos that I got the idea to turn it into a book instead. So there you have it.
It’s called Game Boy Modding and Repairs: A step-by-step guide for beginners. I hope you want to support me and check it out. It’s an e-book that works on your mobile phone, tablet, Kindle, etc and it’s only $10.59.
The step-by-step guide
Here is a step-by-step guide for modding the classic Game Boy DMG-01. Instead of going into details about the obvious mods, like replacing the screen (cover), buttons, and silicon parts, I will focus on the more technical aspects of modding. Got any questions not covered in this tutorial? Check out my book, or go to my official Facebook page, click like and ask me. Also, don’t forget to check out my music on Spotify.
Soldering iron or Soldering station, preferably one with variable temperature
Tri-point Y1 screwdriver
Game Boy Backlight kit
Game Boy Bivert chip
1 Electrolytic capacitor 1000uF, 10V minimum
2 Electrolytic capacitors 10uF, 10V minimum
How to install a backlight
1. Remove the polarizing film and reflective layer on the backside of the screen
Open up your Game Boy and remove all the screws from the two boards, then pull out the ribbon cable connecting the two halves.
Remove the two small screws below the screen. Carefully lift up the screen using a screwdriver or a small spatula tool in the little notch in the top of the plastic frame. There will be a little resistance because of two small adhesive pillows on the inside. When you have pulled up the screen enough to see them both, carefully remove them with a pair of tweezers.
Now you are going to pull off the polarizing film and reflective layer while trying not to break the screen and the solder points underneath the screen. This part can be a bit tricky so if it’s your first time I recommend first try it out on the screen that is already broken beyond repair, for example, one with screen cancer.
The polarizer and reflective layer are glued together. You will remove both of them in one take by inserting a sharp knife like a scalpel in the top left corner. The trick not to scratch the screen is to press in the knife just a few millimeters where the layers meet the glass. Then use the knife, carefully pushing the material away from the screen so that it opens up a corner big enough for you to grab with your thumb and index finger. Once you can grab it, start slowly pulling away more by moving your thumb inwards and along the sides of the screen.
The process of removing the polarizer and reflective layer can be anything from quick and simple to very hard, depending on the stickiness of the glue. I have found that the newer models of the DMG-01, the so-called Play it loud editions usually are the easiest ones to work with, in terms of removal time and amounts of glue that are left to be dealt with afterward.
Try not to exert too much force on the screen so that it bends. If it bends too much it will snap and become unusable. That happened to me once. That popping sound is not something I would like to hear ever again when doing a backlight mod… Also, try not to put too push the screen too much away from the frame as this may damage the fine solder points under the screen. More about that later.
Here you can see how I have slowly and carefully worked my way towards the other side of the screen.
2. Clean the screen
With the polarizer layers finally off, in best case scenario there is almost no glue on the screen. The cleaning process can take anything from 10 minutes to an hour depending on the amount of glue left on the screen.
Use plenty of Isopropanol and cotton swabs in a circular motion to loosen up the glue and then drag the bits of glue off the screen. You may have to go through three to twenty cotton swabs depending on how much glue is left. The goal here is to remove all of it and that may take some time if you are unlucky.
When all the glue has been removed, there will still be some residue from the isopropanol on the screen. Clean that off with a very fine polishing cloth, like the one you would use to polish a car. Do not use toilet paper or something like that since that could scratch the inside of your screen. I use a technique where I apply some of my breath to it and quickly and carefully clean with the polishing cloth.
When you have cleaned and polished the inside of the screen it should look like this. You should see no streaks, dots, smudges or fibres left from the cotton swabs, even if you hold it up to the light.
3. Cut a hole in the plastic frame for the backlight connector
Use a small wirecutter tool to cut off a bit of the plastic big enough for the backlight connector to fit.
4. Solder the resistor and wire
I always use backlights from Deadpan Robot. It comes with a resistor that needs to be soldered to the connector where it says plus (+).
I have found that doing it like depicted in the picture below is the easiest and fastest way. Solder the resistor directly to the connector on the backlight and then bend it almost 90 degrees to the right.
5. Install the backlight and solder the resistor and other wire to the board
Install the backlight by sliding it into the plastic frame under the screen. Remove the protective sheets on the polarizer and slide it in over the backlight, making sure you don’t scratch it. On the backlight type I use there is a blue stripe on the polarizer which indicates its backside. Also, make sure the screen becomes dark blue after you have inserted the polarizer. If it’s not dark blue then take it out again, flip it 90 degrees and insert.
Now solder the resistor and the black wire to the board, like in the image below. It’s easier if you use a pair of tweezers to hold them in place as you solder. You may need to apply some new solder to make them stay.
Reconnect the CPU board with the display board, put them in your case without screwing everything back together, insert batteries and start up the Game Boy to see if it’s working. If it doesn’t look anything like the image below then something is wrong.
How to install a bivert chip
Now it’s time to put in the bivert chip. This will make the Game Boy video look crispier and with less ghosting. The bivert chip is pre-installed on a tiny circuit board that you just solder in place.
1. Desolder pins 6 and 7 on the video connector
Locate the video connector and desolder pins 6 and 7, as shown in the image below. I have tried different techniques on how to desolder them without breaking anything. I’ve found that the quickest way is to press a scalpel to one of the solder joints, then hold the tip of the soldering iron on it, while I gently prying the scalpel underneath it. The goal here is to bend the two pins upwards and break their existing connection to the board.
2. Solder the pins to the bivert chip and the other solder points
When both pins 6 and 7 are de-soldered and slightly bent upwards I put in the bivert chipboard and re-solder both pins to it. It’s pretty small and tricky so you may need to use a magnifying glass here. When both pins are soldered I then continue with the other four points on the bivert chipboard.
3. Reconnect the Game Boy
It’s time to see if the video is still working. If it looks like the image below then you are in the clear.
How to do the Prosound to headphones mod
With the pro sound mod, you get a better-sounding Game Boy. It’s done by sending the sound directly to the headphones, bypassing some internal circuitry that otherwise adds unwanted noise.
This one is so easy I won’t write a step by step for it. Just cut and remove the two black wires shown in the image. Then solder two new wires as also shown in the image.
Solder the black wire to solder point number 3 and the red wire to solder point number 4. They are pretty small so what I do first apply some solder to them. I keep the tip of the wires pretty small and apply solder to them before soldering them onto the board. Be careful not to hold the iron for very long on the solder points or you may break them. They are very tiny and delicate.
When done, reconnect the Game Boy and start it up with a game. Listen to the sound and try lowering and boosting the volume to make sure there are no crackles and other strangeness going on soundwise. Also, try out with the headphones to make sure you have sound there as well.
How to do the bass mod
The bass mod adds a bit of sub-bass in the lower ranges, like 40-50 Hz. You would typically need a good pair of headphones or a sub to notice the change, but it will definitely sound beefier on a club sound system.
1. Locate the two 1 uF capacitors on the CPU board
You will find them close to the volume wheel.
2. Desolder the capacitors
Turn the board and desolder the two capacitors. The easiest way is to use a desoldering braid. Make sure it’s not too big. I think the one in the image above is something like 2 – 2.5 mm wide. If possible, lower the heat on your solder station a bit, place the braid on a solder point and put the solder iron over it. These points are delicate and pretty easy to break if you apply too much heat for too long, so try to be careful with this one.
3. Remove the old capacitors and solder new ones
When desoldered, it should look something like the image above. Turn the board, remove the old capacitors and put in two 10uF instead, making sure to put the leg for + where it says + on the board.
New 10uF capacitors are soldered in place and the solder joints are looking good.
Bass mod completed.
How to do the decoupling capacitor mod on the power strip
This mod is done to improve sound quality after having installed the pro sound and backlight mod.
First, you need to get hold of an electrolytic capacitor in the range of at least 500-600 uF, although I recommend going for a 1000uF. I have tried different values and found that 1000uF produces the best results, in regards to the reduction of hiss and noise.
1. Solder wires to the capacitor
Start by soldering a black wire to the minus pin (the shorter pin) and then a red wire to the plus. Although not totally necessary I always also add a couple of shrink tubes to minimize the risk for shorts.
2. Solder the wires to the powerstrip
Locate the power strip. Solder the red wire to where it says VCC and the black wire to GND. Done!
Before putting everything back together in the shell, make sure one last time that everything is working as it should. Put in a game and let it run for a while. When you are certain everything is OK, screw everything back together and enjoy your modded Game Boy.
I hope you enjoyed my modding guide. If you are having any problems or perhaps suggestions for things I could add to this guide, please let me know on my Facebook page. Also, I would be super happy if you could please head over to my Spotify page, and click Follow. Thank you in advance. It really means a lot to me.
I won’t lie, this project has taken forever to finish. I did all the rookie mistakes, but hey that’s the best way to learn something new, isn’t it. Finally it’s completed and I can show you some photos. And if I may say so myself, damn it’s beautiful.
This is what I did:
Glued and fixed a crack in the case.
Removed all the yellowed paint on the case and front.
Removed the original weave on the back of the front.
Repainted the front with a semigloss white paint.
Spray glued a new fine weave made of white linen on the backside of the front.
Repainted the case with three coats of matte white paint, then water-sanded with a 1200 sandpaper.
Scanned the original paper dial, which was very yellowed and with almost unreadable text. Cleaned up the image in Photoshop then printed a new one in high quality. I carefully sprayed the paper with a sealer and finally glued it to the front.
This is one of my own modded Game Boys. It used to have a cyan blue screen but yesterday I decided to try out a silver screen that I had recently acquired. I also tried new off-white silicon buttons. It looks great I think, though I have still not decided if I like the feeling of the new buttons.
One of the things I have found when choosing color combinations for modded Game Boys is that it usually looks better if there is a high contrast between the color of the shell and the screen. Meaning if you choose a dark shell, use a lightly colored screen and vice versa.
For close to one year now I have been refurbishing and modding old Game Boys. It started out as a fun project where I wanted to learn something new and test the limits of what was possible to do, without investing a lot of money or time. It has been fun but this Game Boy pictured above is likely one of the last I will do, if not the last one.
I’ve grown a bit tired on doing this and since it’s getting harder and harder to get hold of second hand Game Boys in Sweden that are in good enough shape to work on, now seems like a good time to move on to do something else on my spare time, like making more music again. Also my source for most of the spare parts are located in the UK, which as you may know are very likely to not be a part of the EU soon, meaning there will be extra costs for customs for everything ordered from there.
Anyway, so please enjoy this last or one of my last modded Game Boy DMG-01. It’s an original shell in great condition with new green plastic screen and see-through buttons. All the usual mods for greater image quality and sound. Perfect for the serious retro gamer or LSDJ / Nanoloop Chip musician. Available on Ebay as I’m writing this.
Here is another modded Gameboy DMG-01. This is my second one which has a great condition original Clear case together with green screen and buttons. I really like this color combination. Of course it has all the usual internal mods as well:
White backlight screen, which means you can play games, produce music and perform live in complete darkness.
Bivert chip, for improved contrast and less ghosting.
Brand new green plastic lens.
Brand new green buttons.
ProSound mod to the original headphone jack, for improved sound quality, louder volume and less background noise.
Bass Boost mod for more sub bass. The thump / bass feel area below 50hz is more prominent now. This will make your tracks kick HARD when performing live.
1000 uF decoupling capacitor on the power regulator. Reduces the hiss and hum that can occur because of the backlight screen.
My blue 1961 transistor radio Braun T220 works pretty good but since I’m planning to put it on Ebay I decided it was time to do the electronics versions of an oil change: The re-cap. Changing all the capacitors.
Opening it up I could find eight metal capacitors and one biggie made out of paper. When old gear is failing, the first suspect is almost always the electrolytic capacitors. I have previously repaired a Samsung monitor and a Samsung TV where the only fault was a couple of bulging caps. Total cost to fix that was under a dollar.
All the old capacitors from the Braun T220
In this case where the radio is close to 60 years, there is no reason to keep any of the old caps. If they haven’t completely failed yet it’s just a matter of time and if you would measure their values they are probably all over the place. It wasn’t that much work. It took me around three hours to de-solder all of them and putting in brand new ones. I had to be extra careful not to break any of the many thin copper wires that were soldered left and right in a way you don’t see in newer tech.
The inside of the Braun T220, before the re-cap
Powering on the T220 again I was very happy to find that everything was working and the FM signal now was much stronger than before. Also the sound volume was louder and clearer in a way that I had not anticipated. I guess the radio now sounds like it did when it was new in 1961.
All in all the whole process was pretty fun and much easier than what I had imagined it would be. Everything turned out great, which is not always the case when you start poking around in ancient tech.
The title says it all. Five working Game Boy ready for modding. Perhaps I will fix them all this weekend.
First they need to be cleaned. One or two of the shells look like border-line keep or toss though. If they still look shabby after the cleaning process that then I have a couple of other shells I could use that are in way better shape.
The clear/crystal shell looks like it’s in good shape. No yellowing and no visible dents or cracks, which right there is a great plus. I’m planning to use either red or green screen and buttons on this one.
I finished another modded Nintendo Game Boy yesterday, this one a commission from a fellow musician. All the usual mods of course.
I really like working on the Play it loud models and the yellow ones in particular. There rarely are any problems with them and the shells are always in good shape. The same goes for red, black, blue and green which also was made in great plastic at the time.
Many of the original grey shells however almost always have yellowed with age to some degree. The Clear / Skeleton model may look the best but it’s the worst one to work with. It has the most brittle plastic of them all so it’s super easy to break something. You almost never find any original Clear case that doesn’t have some sort of a dent or crack in it.