Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!


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Keeping old controllers alive…

Last year, I picked up an Atari 2600, two joysticks, a set of paddles, and ten games at a local thrift store.  The console worked perfectly, but the joysticks were iffy and the paddles all jittery.  I had never re-built an Atari controller before, but I am pretty handy with a soldering iron, so I thought I would try rebuilding these joysticks and paddles myself.

Re-building the joysticks…

The two joysticks were in good physical condition, so I used one of those damp, anti-bacterial cleaning cloths to get all of the dirt and dust off of the outside.  To open up an Atari joystick, just unloosen four screws on the bottom of the joystick and the top will separate from the bottom.  Be careful as fire button and spring will come loose and one of my springs went missing.  There are a few dealers that still have original Atari CX40 joystick circuit boards for sale, but I opted for a re-build kit from Best Electronics.  Best includes a new joystick handle and a new circuit board, with gold contacts, that is an exact fit for the original Atari circuit board.  I had already turned my soldering iron on before I realized that no soldering would be needed as the Atari wiring harness is connected via slide clips.  I carefully removed the wires from the original board and installed them on the new Best gold board.  The Best gold board includes markings that indicate which wire should be connected to each contact.  I then carefully re-assembled the joystick and tested it.  This actually took me a couple of iterations as I didn’t have the spring lined up correctly and fire button wasn’t working.  Also, since I lost a fire button spring, I had imagineer one from a ball point pen spring.  Thus, I highly recommend ordering a couple of those from Best when you order the rebuild kits.  Once I had the springs properly aligned, the joysticks worked perfectly and are now better than new!

Original CX40 Parts

Original CX40 Parts

Gold CX40 PCB

Gold CX40 PCB

Re-building the paddles…

The Atari CX-30 paddles are infamous for becoming ‘jittery’, after many hours of use.  Some people have had success using contact cleaner to solve this problem, but most of the time the potentiometers are just worn out.  As far as I know, it is almost impossible to find original replacement potentiometers for Atari paddles.  Thankfully, Best Electronics has been able to locate a source of replacement ‘super pots’ for Atari paddles that are actually better quality and a perfect fit.  To replace the pots in a set of CX30 paddles is pretty straight forward.  I removed the two screws from the back of the case to separate the case halves.  I then loosened the nut that holds the pot in place and carefully removed it.  I used my soldering iron to unsolder the two wires from the existing pot and, then soldered them to the new super pot.  Using the new nut that comes with the super pot, I re-installed it into the case and re-assembled the case.  I repeated this process for the other paddle in the CX30 set.  Once they were both back together, I tested them and they worked flawlessly, but one of the paddles had a rattle.  I took it back apart and realized that the plastic housing had cracked around one of the screw holes.  Not wanting to wait to order a replacement case, I used a little silicone adhesive and shored up the post with a wire tie.  Problem solved, rattle gone!  The re-built paddles are smooth and jitter free!

Old & New CX40 Pots

Old & New CX40 Pots

Fixing a CX24 joystick…

One of my CX24 joysticks for my Atari 7800 wasn’t working very well, so I had also ordered a replacement circuit board from Best.  It was a simple effort to swap this board, in my failing controller, and restore it to full health.

Overall thoughts…

Fortunately, it is fairly easy to give new life to old Atari controllers.  There is more than one on-line Atari dealer that have repair parts for Atari joysticks and paddles, but Best Electronics seems to have the most complete selection.  Their ‘gold’ joystick circuit boards and ‘super pots’ are easy to install and will give your controllers new life.  Don’t continue to settle for a failing controller and don’t think that your only option is to buy new ones…get some replacement parts and re-build them yourself!

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@Atarigameguy