Our friend Joel Johnson (of Dethroner fame) is hosting an event (called Funde Razor) in NYC Wednesday to raise money for Penny Arcade’s Child’s Play charity. If you’re in the area, you should definitely check it out as a) Child’s Play is a kick-ass charity which you should support, b) you’ll get to play Guitar Hero II with other cool people like yourself, c) you may be able to win the custom Guitar Hero controller you’ll see us make in this article, and d) we hear that Joel throws some pretty good shindigs.
Anyway, as we made the controller pictured above this week, it occured to us that you might enjoy making one of your own — so we took a lot of pictures, and here you go: a guide to building your own full-sized GH controller. Or, as we like to call it: What happens when you cross a perfectly good TAC wireless GH controller and a perfectly good guitar? Read on past the jump to find out.
- One of the other guitars built for Childs Play is on eBay. [link]
- How-To: Build a Game Chair with a $380 Wire Welder
Before you jump into this project, let us warn you that this isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of destruction involved and it takes a good bit of patience to cut and mangle these parts slowly — test fitting as you go — to make sure they’re all going to fit. It took us about 75 hours to complete ours, and though yours may move along more quickly (depending on the tools and experience at your command) this is still a pretty difficult task.
Task Overview/Selecting the Controller & Guitar
Our goal here is to remove the functional components from a GH controller and install them into a real guitar. You’ve probably seen some of the pictures of these floating around the ‘net as some people have already successfully built them. We saw those pictures, too, and it looked like a pretty straightforward task.
In some ways it is, and in many ways it’s not. The problem you’ll deal with over and over during this project is space or more importantly the lack thereof. Whenever you’re selecting parts or laying out the guitar, keep in mind where all the components will fit and whether or not they’ll conflict with each other.
Selecting a controller is easy if you want a wireless controller; at the time we started the project only one was available: the TAC controller. Now the Red Octane version is readily available as well, so you have a choice. (Actually, if anyone out there has a Red Octane version and would be willing to crack it open and take a few pix to send them our way, we’ll post them here for everyone’s benefit.)
Note: Click on smaller photos for larger versions.
If you don’t care to go wireless, you could save yourself a lot of hassle and expense by starting with a factory Red Octane GH controller. Remember that if you want to go wireless, you’re going to have to deal with batteries — which is easier said than done.
Obviously you have a little more choice with the guitar. We started out by looking around the local pawn shops, hoping to find a guitar that’d already had a good life on stage (or in somebody’s bedroom) and was ready for a change. Sadly, we had little luck. Most of the guitars we found had been pawned for at least $20, which meant that they wouldn’t let go of them for less than $40 — and everything we found in that price range needed some major paint work.
Of course, if you’ve got weeks to spend on the project, painting can be fun and rewarding. Since we had about a week, we decided to go for something more “ready to play.” A trip to Guitar Center netted us a brand-new Fender Squier Bullet for $99.
Before we ran out to pick up switches and such, we decided to see what we got ourselves into; we took the GH conroller apart. Since the battery pack cover is fastened with small Phillips screws, TAC ships a handy little screwdriver with the unit. We used it to take the screws out of the body, which revealed the controller’s guts.
There are five main components: the “strummer” unit (which also houses the majority of the electronics), the “whammy bar” unit, the “fret” button board, the start/select button board, and the tilt switch assembly. Besides those, there’s also an on-off switch and a battery pack.
The strummer attaches to the controller’s face with four screws, and an orange plastic stand-off captures and positions the “strum bar” so that it actuates the switches. It’s connected to the button boards with ribbon cables and to the rest with common small-gauge wire.
The whammy bar unit consists of a white plastic cage that positions the silver swivel perpendicular to a potentiometer. The potentiometer is held in place by a metal strap, and the swivel connects to the cage via a small spring to return the bar after use.
The start/select buttons are very inexpensive circuit-board type buttons — where the buttons themselves provide the mechanical connection — there’s no big “switch.” When you mash the button, you’re squashing some flexible material in the plastic “button,” allowing a small conductor to make contact across a shape etched into the board.
The same goes for the fret button board.
The tilt sensor slides into a bracket and is hot-glued in place.
Read on to page 2 where we begin guitar disassembly.