Gameboy backlight

Please take notice: I wrote this tutorial around 2004 which is quite a while ago. Although still completely valid, you might find quite a few better tutorials all over the internet. Also, as suggested in the end of the article, some people have made proper businesses elaborating on the techniques shown here, selling modded DMGs, Kits, all sorts of stuff that'll make the whole process a lot easier.
I'm perfectly fine with this because I never had the patience to do so myself. I tried to build a few Backlight mods for money and got soooooooo bored with it... If you do so, please put a link on your site.

Anyways, I keep this tutorial up mainly for historical reasons. It has been the first one world wide and I am a little bit proud of it. My tiny little space of fame in the vast world chiptune has become over time.

But yeah, it's still here, so enjoy:

How to add a Backlight to your GameBoy (DMG only, won't work with GBC)

The Classic Gameboy is a great tool for producing music. Nice fat basses and weird sounds coming in a sexy brick-shaped body that is sturdy enough to double up as a weapon.

BUT: it isn't exactly stage-friendly because its display lacks a backlight and all the external lights you can buy for it are bulky, eat up batteries and basically look shitty. That's why i began thinking about modding it to be backlit internally and found it out to be one of the easiest mods I've ever done. I think it took me about half an hour to complete and now I can use my Gameboy in absolute darkness for fiddling around with LSDJ. Or reading a book.

Here's what it looks like:

Backlit Gameboy

well, actually, that's not what it looks like, because it's a crappy foto. In reality, it looks a lot better, but anyway this is a low-tech approach and I didn't really care for the Display being lit equally everywhere. I just wanted to have some light. But the result really turned out better than expected.

Some people asked me to, so I wrote this tutorial:

1. What you need:

Basically you don't need very much, you don't even have to have any whatsoever advanced soldering skills. You'd propably end up with good results with no soldering skills at all apart from knowing which end is the hot one.

so here's the big list of needed stuff:

  • 1. a Gameboy (well, yeah, you actually need one)
  • 2. a super bright LED of any color you desire
  • 3. a CD or Cassette Case or any kind of transparent plastic with a similar thickness
  • 4. aluminium foil
  • 3. the usual tools (like soldering iron, pliers, special triwing screwdriver, etc., a dremel can come in handy, too)

Yup, That's it. Everything else you'll need is inside the Gameboy, so our next task will be:

2. Opening it up

Yeah, you need a special triwing scewdriver for that, you can actually get them all over the place. Sometimes, a small flathead works, too. Apart from that, everyone should be able to unscrew a few screws and open the case, so we proceed to:

3. Getting to the Guts

What we need is the upper PCB with the display on it. this is what it looks like:

Display PCB

4. Doing what has to be done

Heat up your soldering iron, locate the Battery LED left to the display and remove it.

PCB detail: LED position

once the LED is removed, cut a hole into the white plastic frame right beneath the place where the LED was. I've used my Dremel for that but I'm shure you can also use a small file or a sharp knive.

PCB detail: cut frame

If you have a superbright LED measuring 5mm, you will need to carefully file the LEDs body to be rectangular and to fit into the gap in the white Frame. If your LED already is rectangular, or a 3mm one, proceed to the next step IMMEDIATELY.

file LED to rectangular shape

Now put the LED in the battery LED's place like shown in the picture. Keep the Legs of the LED a little longer so you can adjust its position afterwards.

PCB detail: LED placement

Flip over the PCB. In the top-right corner, there's a 1k resistor. You'll need to replace it with a bridge to get the LED shining brighter. You could also replace it with a pot to add some control to your backlight, but I doubt it's usefullness.

PCB back

What comes now is the trickiest part of the whole operation: carefully peel off the reflective foil on the back of the display. It won't come off easily so you'll have to use a scalpel or something similar. After the foil is off, clean the back of the display with cleaning alcohol.

remove foil from screen

cover all the solder Points on the PCB behind the display with Der Warst Packing Tape as isolation, If you don't have any, I can sell you a roll of it for 4,- € plus shipping. Yes, it's actually this cheap and the coolest der Warst merch article you ever heard of. Just imagine how jealous your friends will be. I guess any other kind of tape would work as well, but I haven't tested it and I don't recommend it. So go and buy one of my beautiful tapes.

sticky tape

Next step is asking your mum for some tin foil. It's found in kitchens all around the world, so it will probably be in yours, too. cut off a piece of it again in the size of the display. Alternatively, you can also use a piece of white paper or plastic. Just try both and see whichever suits you best.

tin foil

Place the piece of alufoil on top of the der Warst Tape, underneath the display. Be careful not to produce any shorts.

tin foil placement

Now cut out a square resembling the size of the display from the CD or cassette case. I did this with a Dremel. Frost both sides of the plastic square with sandpaper.

cut square from CD jewel case

Now, all those things go under your display. First the tin foil, then the sanded piece of perspex.

put frosted plastic square in place

You will notice that it isn't exactly easy getting everything right in place, because the flat ribbon cable of the Display is attached in an annoying manner, but if I could do it, you should be able to do it as well.

5. testtest onetwo onetwo...

When everything's in place, reconnect the two PCBs of the Gameboy, put in some batteries or a walwart and any GB cart you desire.

Turn on your Gameboy.

If anything suspicious happens, or nothing at all, turn it off and start wondering why you were able to make a mistake with a mod so easy.

If nessecary, adjust the LED to your needs.

6. almost there...

A few more things before you close it again:

-If you have a damaged Laptop Computer lying around that you don't need anymore, disassemble its screen and use squares of the foils underneath the actual screen on top of your cassette/CD case square. I had a Notebook with a busted backlight inverter and that's what I did. I think, the GB Backlight would work without this Foil, but it looks slicker with it.

-Be careful when you screw the PCB to the Case again, although it still fits, your Display now is a little higher, if you drive the screws in too tight, you could damage the Display.

-Sadly, the mod won't work with a GameBoy Colour, because it has a Display working in a different manner. If you find out a way to backlight a GBC, please let me know.

-I do not take any responsibility for what you do. If you mess up the whole stuff, you won't get any money from me, nor anything else. Ah, and you'll definately void your warranty!

-Please don't send me any emails asking stupid questions. I've put some effort in this tutorial to make it very easy to comprehend, everything you need to know about this Mod is in the tutorial, it even has funny pictures understandable for the simplest of minds. If you still have some questions, at least put them in a convenient form.

-If you're afraid of soldering irons, but have lots of money instead, send me an email (warstware[atat]der-warst.de), maybe we can arrange a deal.

-this tutorial is entirely public domain, so if you want to use it for whatever, I don't mind. If you sell modded Gameboys or kits, I would appreciate being credited. Remember, I was there first.

Now reassemble Your Gameboy, turn off the lights and play all night long under your blanket or whatever.


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