Custom Gameboy Advance Backlight Mod

Custom Gameboy Advance

About a year ago I read about a mod to take the backlit screen from a Gameboy Advance SP and fit it to an original Gameboy Advance using a ribbon adapter. I wanted to try this because the original Gameboy Advance is a great system, but the non-backlit screen can be difficult to see. The Gameboy Advance SP has a better screen, but it’s not as comfortable to hold, and the Gameboy Micro is too small to play for an extended amount of time. So putting a backlit screen in the original Gameboy Advance should create the perfect Gameboy!

Unfortunately, white doing this mod, I ran into lots of issues, and it ended up taking much longer than it should have. If you plan on doing this mod, learn from my mistakes!

I started with my glacier blue Gameboy Advance, a screen from a Gameboy Advance SP (AGS-101), and a ribbon cable adapter. I got the adapter from a very nice man in China named Zerey Zhang, but it’s quite easy to get adapters on eBay now.

32 and 40 pin adapter on eBay

Some of these pictures were taken as reference photos about a year ago. I didn’t really expect them to be uploaded online so please forgive the poor quality.

 

Gameboy Advance
My Gameboy Advance before disassembly

 

Gameboy Advance
Back panel removed

 

Gameboy Advance
Plastic shell removed

 

Because the glacier blue Gameboy Advance is transparent I decided to try painting the system by painting the inside of the plastic black. This should create a unique smokey black/blue color!

 

Gameboy Advance
The plastic parts were taped up and painted black on the inside.

 

Gameboy Advance Backlight
I had to cut the plastic around the screen to get the new larger screen to fit.

 

Gameboy Advance Backlight
I also had to cut some plastic behind the battery case.

 

Gameboy Advance
A glimpse of what the plastics will look like after the interior was painted black.

 

Broken Gameboy Advance SP
I bought a broken Gameboy Advance SP to pull the backlit screen from. It looked as though someone spilled soda on it, but the screen was fine!

 

So I took the screen from the SP, attached it to the adapter, managed to stuff it all in to the painted shell. It was still a tough fit with the larger screen and adapter, and there were some gaps between the front and back plastic shells. But at least it was done, or so I thought.

 

Backlit Gameboy Advance
The “finished” product

 

Part 2: In which I break everything

The Gameboy had such a tight fit, the shell was bent and the plastic over the screen kept popping off. So I bought a glass screen cover hoping that would fix the problem. I decided that while I was replacing the glass, I would also cut some more plastic off and try for a better fit.

Mistake 1: When I removed the Gameboy’s screen, I ended up damaging the adapter. It had somehow got stuck to the back of the screen, and part of it separated when the screen was removed. It took many hours of troubleshooting to narrow it down to the adapter (as opposed to screen or mainboard). Once I figured out it was the ribbon adapter, I ordered another one from eBay.

Mistake 2:  After removing even more plastic it was starting to show it’s original color in some areas, so I decided to give the shell another coat of paint. I taped everything up, but I forgot to tape up the clear plastic in front of the green power LED. Now when the system was on, no light came through.

Mistake 3: I tried removing the paint from the clear plastic with a knife, but it didn’t work. So I got out the drill (you can probably see this coming), and just shaved the top layer off the clear plastic piece. Everything seemed good… at first.

Once I got the adapter from eBay, everything seemed to work just fine! I put it all back together and played it for a while to make sure it was working. While playing, I noticed a slight crack around the power LED. After about 30 minutes, that crack had spread outwards to the ends of the shell. This had to be because of the drilling…

 

Gameboy Advance Backlight
OH THE HUMANITY!

 

The shell was ruined… So I went shopping for a new shell. I finally found one that I liked on the Etsy page for 8bit Evolution (no longer available). I decided to try one, as I couldn’t stand having a Gameboy Advance with a crack like that. So after waiting the replacement shell finally arrived!

 

Backlit Gameboy Advance
The shell even had the plastic already cut!

 

Backlit Gameboy Advance
The back wasn’t cut, but for some reason, this didn’t cause a problem this time.

 

Backlit Gameboy Advance
Gameboy brain transplant!

 

The only problem I ran into with this shell was the fact that it didn’t have the transparent plastic for the LED. I managed to take that out of the old shell though (it was undamaged, despite the cracks). Other than that, everything fit even better than my butchered original shell!

 

Backlit Gameboy Advance
The missing clear plastic for the LED. I wish I had noticed this before assembling it the first time.

 

Once I got the LED looking okay, and I got the Gameboy fully assembled, it looked better than I expected! I was almost glad the original shell cracked!

Here’s the (finally) finished product!

 

Backlit Gameboy Advance
I was worried that the grey-ish buttons and sides would look bad with a colored shell, but I think it looks great!

 

Backlit Gameoby Advance
The shell came with a plastic screen cover, but I just used the glass one I already had. It has a nice color effect on the Gameboy Advance logo!

 

I also managed to use a hairdryer to heat up the stickers on the back of the original shell, and move them to the new shell. Since this is the GBA from my childhood, I wanted to keep as much as I could from the original system.

 

Custom Gameoby Advance
The back looks great as well, especially with my EZFlash cartridge and white batteries!

 

And just like most of my handhelds, I used rechargeable Eneloop batteries because of the extra power draw from the backlit screen. They also look good behind the transparent battery cover!

Panasonic Eneloop AA Batteries – Amazon

 

Custom Gameboy Advance and Gameboy Color
The Gameboy Advance even goes well with the Gameboy Color I recently renovated!

 

Custom Gameboy Advance
Paired with my Flash Cartridge, this really is the perfect Gameboy Advance!

 

I loved the idea of a backlit Gameboy Advance, and I’m really excited that I finally got it right! This really does combine the best of all the GBA models. It has the comfort and nice buttons of the original, with the backlit screen and rechargeability of the SP and Micro. I’m excited to finally have this in my collection!

 

Gameboy Advance Backlight
Ok, last picture, I promise!

44 comments

    1. You can tell which one you need by looking behind the battery cover. If you look at the listing for the ribbon cables, there are pictures near the bottom that will help.

  1. Hey good job. Looks great. I just finished one my self. It is a 40 pin 101 screen and no soldering need. But 😒 I’m getting screen pressure distortions when I press the a b or d pad. The screen has a distortion right in the middle. This is the second shell I’ve tried and same problem on both. Some games it’s not too bad others it is terrible. Any help would be great. Thanks

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you like it! I had the exact same problem, and I found that the screen distorts whenever something is pressing against the back of the screen. When you press buttons, that usually puts pressure on the two halves and it distorts.

      Basically, you have to used a dremel or an X Acto knife to cut away as much plastic as possible. One of the best places to cut are the front panel in front of the screen. The 101 screen doesn’t fit without cutting anyway, so sometimes you can cut more there. The other spot is on the back panel on the inside of the battery compartment. There’s sometimes a piece of plastic on the back that pushes against the screen. There are other places to cut, so you may just have to keep cutting until it goes away.

      Anyway, that was a long answer, but I hope it helps!

      1. Wow thanks. I’ll get my exacto knife on it some more. I also have some sand paper. I will try to keep shaving it down and hope the distortions stop.i didn’t realize it was pressure on the back of the screen I was thinking it was the front. But if I take out some more of the front area maybe it will stop pressing the back when I play it. It looks perfect if I’m not pressing buttons. I’ll tell ya if I can get the distortions to stop.

        1. Got it working perfectly. I sanded and whittled away. Also I realized that I did not peel that clear plastic and black stuff off the back of the 101 screen. After that no distortions at all!!😃

  2. Loving your work, looks like you did a really good job!!
    I’m just starting a really similar project myself and acquired a gba-sp to butcher for the screen. It’s only now it’s come to my attention that there are 2 variants of the sp screens- frontlit/back-lit. It looks like you used the back-lit from your article? Could I ask if that was a deliberate choice and why, and if you think I’ll have issues as the one I got is the older frontlit one I think?

    1. Hey Lucas, I’m glad you like it!

      The backlit screen is definitely better. I think you can use a frontlit screen, but I haven’t tried it so I’m not 100% sure. I know that some people just add a frontlight to their GBA to make it frontlit, but I’m not sure there are any more kits available anywhere now that people can use the backlight.

      1. Thanks for the reply. I’ve not stripped the gba-sp yet, going to try to swap it for a back-lit model in the store I got it from first. I wouldn’t mind having an sp for my collection but I picked up a REALLY damaged one superficially as I only needed parts from the unit. If I can’t swap it I’ll break it down for parts and see what I can use. Of course I’ll post the results here in this thread as others might find the info handy 😉

  3. Hello there!
    This article has been very helpful to be read, and it’s only made me more excited to make changes to my GBA. However I wanted to know if you would be willing to go more in depth with the process you took regarding the screen changes and the structural changes. I’ve been given the opportunity of 3D printing a (hopefully) working model and so I’m curious about all the details of your experience with your project.
    Thanks in advance,
    Faith

  4. Hey nice mod ! Just wondering where do you get the clear white buttons, im gonna make a new housing and i like that pure white :3

  5. Hi ! Nice job ! I am sorry but the links for the two coloured shell are dead or does not lead to informations :s
    Could you recommend me where to find a similar case ? Thanks .

    1. The backlit screen was that hard part to find. I managed to get a damaged GBA 101 for about $20, and the shell was about $25. The ribbon cable was maybe $15, but I think you can get them cheaper now.

  6. Because the backlit screen is made from a much newer technology than the original screen, It actually has better battery life. About 3 hours extra give or take.

  7. Hey there

    your gameboys look ace, realy loveing the case. I seen the link from where you got it, but its not there anymore, was this a limited run thing or are they still for sale as i would realy like to get one.

      1. Hey, can you tell if it’s spraypainted from the outside? I can’t really tell from the pictures, but you would help me a lot, since I’ve fallen in love with this shell :>

    1. Thanks for the heads up. I updated the ebay links, but the 8bit Evolution Etsy page has been shut down. You can find other shells on eBay and Amazon though.

  8. Nice tutorial Nahte27. Wish i would have seen this before i did mine, I damaged my ribbon the same way as you did yours. It sucks having to wait for parts while you have everything else.
    I completely cut the battery compartment off mine though, to fit a LI-ion 1200 mah battery through a micro USB charging board. On second thought, it was quiet a bit of work to just have an internal rechargeable battery when i could have done away with the eneloop batteries. Just plugging it is is quiet nice though.

  9. I just did this mod, and just realized I lost the small clear LED cover. Is it possible to buy just the LED cover anywhere? If not, is there any downside to not having it there besides general aesthetics?

    1. I think it’s just aesthetics. You could always try putting a drop of hot glue, or super glue gel in the hole to make your own clear piece for the light to shine through!

  10. Which version of Golden Sun do you have? Both 1 and 2 do not save due to an issue with the ROM and have been looking for a version that allows saving.

    1. I have both and I haven’t had any issues with saving. My only thought is to make sure you don’t have bootleg copies, as bootleg GBA games can have trouble saving.

        1. Oh, you mean you’re using an emulator… I’m not a fan of emulators. You could always get a GBA or DS Lite, or even Wii U with Golden Sun on Virtual Console 🙂

          1. Well yeah, I figured I’d ask since I saw a flashcart in the pictures. Emulators and roms are great because it’s a way of preserving the game.

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