Gameboy Restoration and Renovation (DMG-01)

This is the project that got me hooked on game console repair and modification. And it all started with Gameboy and… music?

About a year and a half ago, I discovered the quirky world of chiptune. This is a form of music that uses only sounds produced by classic game systems or other other old sound chips.  I wanted to try my hand at messing with chiptune songs, but I was missing something rather important, a Gameboy! But I didn’t want just any gameboy, I needed that original classic fat quad-battery sexy grey brick of a machine.

I remembered that my younger brother had one back in the day, but it had been lost years ago. Through some detective work, I managed to track it down! Unfortunately, this thing was in awful shape. The battery cover was broken, the battery contacts were corroded, there were dead pixels, dirt in every crevice, and for some reason the back was completely covered in scotch tape. Upon tearing it down, it looked as though some bugs had even made it their home at some point.

BTW, these pictures that I took were mainly for my reference, as I had no idea I would be posting these on a blog someday. So, sorry for the somewhat fuzzy images. At least I didn’t instagram the heck out of ’em.

Stock Gameboy
My younger bro’s gameboy, complete with dirt, grime, dead pixels, and dead bugs.

 

Gameboy with dead pixels
You can see the line of dead pixels on the left.

 

First time cracking open the Gameboy
You can see some of the grit that made it’s way in there over the years.

 

The first thing to do was see if I could fix the dead columns of pixels. I read on the internet (where everything is true and perfect) that re-heating the glue on the ribbon under the screen would sometimes bring them back to life. I figured it was worth a shot. If it fixed it great, if it didn’t then I lost and gained nothing (except an already broken Gameboy).

Ready to fix broken pixels on the Gameboy
I managed to completely separate the front plate, giving me access to the screen.

 

Dead columns of pixels
At first, things started looking worse, but through sheer persistence, I managed to get all columns working!

 

Once I got all the pixels working, I knew this Gameboy would work just fine for the project. I then took the system completely apart, removed the heapings of scotch tape, and cleaned and scrubbed all the plastic parts.

Cleaning and repairing the plastics of the Gameboy
Some plastic bits drying, and glueing the battery door back together (the tab broke off and fell inside the Gameboy).

 

After all the plastics dried, I broke out my black and white cans of Krylon Fusion to paint this sucker! Now I haven’t had much luck with spraypaint in the past, but I heard this stuff was designed for plastics. What could possibly go wrong?

It seemed like a good idea at first...
Plastic paint. It should work perfect, right? Right???

Well, it turns out lots can go wrong. It looked nice… at first…

Painted Gameboy
Completely disassembled. The shell was painted white, and the buttons black.

 

After it dried for 2 days, I reassembled it. It looked gorgeous, and ran just fine! In fact I popped Pokemon Silver in there and play on original hardware for the first time in 10 years!

Gameboy running Pokemon Silver
Pokemon Silver, on the newly painted Gameboy!

 

Unfortunately, after 10 minutes of playing, that’s when I realized something was wrong. The buttons were getting sticky, and black paint was rubbing off on to my fingers. I discovered that as the paint got warm, it would rub off. I even sanded and put a fresh thin coat on, but even after 2 days, same problem.

So I gave up on the paint and ordered a replacement case from Kitsch Bent, and buttons from ASM Retro! But in the meantime, I had the crown jewel of the project to work on. A “sapphire” backlight kit from Nonfinite Electronics (link goes to the newer version than what I used).

Installing the backlight
A video tutorial was an absolute necessity when I first did this.

 

Gameboy stock film has been removed
I managed to remove the old film (silver square left). This square is part of what gives the old Gameboys their greenish screen! On the right is the white backing with the blue LEDs.

 

 

Backlight installation
Those 2 thin wires are what powers the backlight. You may also notice the single blue LED at the bottom of the picture. That’s going to be used for something else later 😉

 

Gameboy backlight test
Test. Success! Oh, I also forgot to mention that I made a USB cable for the Gameboy! Unfortunately I forgot to document that.

 

Kitsch-Bent white Gameboy shell!
My Kitsch-Bent case came in, along with another planned mod!

 

Seeing as how this Gameboy was designed for Chiptune, I decided to try the Prosound Mod. The idea behind the mod is to bypass the sub-par Gameboy headphone amp entirely. So my plan was to add a port to the Gameboy that goes straight to the sound chip.

Prosound port
Here is the prosound port added to the new case.

 

Prosound soldering
And here is where the port connects directly to the sound chip. I was still a bit new with soldering, and this was the toughest soldering job I’ve done up to that point!

 

However there is one slight problem with the Prosound mod. If you plug headphones or speakers into the prosound port, it does not mute the speakers, like it would with the built in headphone jack. I decided to fix that! I added a switch to the top of the Gameboy that would mute the speaker (but not the prosound port).

 

Mute switch
Here’s the switch that I installed at the top.

 

 

Mute switch wiring
And here’s the wiring from the switch to the speaker.

 

I wanted to add a way to know that the speaker was muted (say, if I had headphones on), so I added an LED that was supposed to light up the clear Start/Select buttons. However, the LED showed through the white plastic too much. Instead, I just decided to use that to my advantage and make the center of the Gameboy glow blue when the speaker was muted.

Mute switch testing
The center glows blue when the speaker is muted. You can also see that I replaced the plastic over the screen with a black one from Kitsch-Bent. And that blue LED from the previous picture? That’s now the power LED!

 

Due to the higher power draw of the backlight, I decided to go with rechargeable batteries. I did some research, and I ended up going with Panasonic Eneloops for all my systems, due to the fact they can be drained and charged many times.

Panasonic Eneloop AA Batteries – Amazon

In the end, it turned out to be a great system, and it was at this point my addiction started. Sure chiptune was awesome, but I also had a couple other partially broken game systems that I now felt like I could do something to. Well, a year and a half later, I have done something to those systems, and more! This Gameboy is just the beginning!

Completed Gameboy!

 

So, these pictures are over a year old right. So how does it look now? Take a look!

Completed Gameboy
System still works great today!

 

Completed Gameboy
Dat backlight!

 

Completed Gameboy
Here’s the EMS flash cart that I use for chiptune and homebrew software.

 

Gameboy collection
This Gameboy sits in the center of the Gameboy shelf of the Museum.

I know what you’re thinking. Wait, what museum? Gameboy shelf? That’s right, this Gameboy was the start of a MUCH bigger project, and the museum is one of the main reasons for this blog!

Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I leave you with a song that I arranged for Gameboy using a chiptune program called LSDJ. This song was recorded straight out of the prosound port on this Gameboy. Enjoy!

4 comments

    1. Check the ribbon cable between the two boards and make sure it’s properly connected. Also check the battery connections for any corrosion, and try a different set of batteries as well. If it still doesn’t work, get an AC adapter and see if it works with that. If it still doesn’t power on, something may have been damaged.

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