Guitar Hero double-strum fix

I noticed a problem a week or so ago after I picked up the new Rock Band 3 for my Wii. The strum bar of my old Aerosmith-branded Les Paul controller had developed an annoying recoil click that causes an occasional double-strum that completely ruins my epic guitar solos! I usually use the Guitar Hero 5 controller, so I don’t know how long it’s been going on for. I theorized that the loose feel in the strum bar had something to do with it, and confirmed by strumming through the song list in the game. Every 5-10 downstrums or so, the guitar caused a phantom upstrum even though I hadn’t strummed in that direction. What was happening was the strum bar travels too far on the downstrum, and on springing back it was pushing the upstrum switch just enough to register. No good for rocking out. To fix it, I devised a way to prevent the strum bar from travelling enough to cause the upstrum, so it would just settle back into the neutral position.

NOTE ADDED 22 Dec 2010: This guide only repairs guitars that strum twice in opposite directions, i.e. down and then up. If your guitar will only strum in one direction, or double-strums in the same direction, you very likely have a faulty switch and will need to replace it, and this guide won’t help you. I have found this guide to replacing an older-style leaf switch, but my guitar has pushbutton switches, and I don’t know of a replacement for those yet.

Here’s what you’ll need to adjust your strum bar:

  • A #10 Torx screwdriver. A power screwdriver bit won’t work because the screw holes are too small.
  • A small Phillips screwdriver, like a watch screwdriver. I don’t know what number it would be. Same deal with the power screwdriver bits.
  • Craft felt, or some other sort of fabric to build a soft spacer to attach to your strum bar. See below.
  • Some kind of adhesive. I used white glue. You’re gluing felt to rubber and plastic, it doesn’t need to be industrial grade epoxy or anything.
  • Acceptance that you’re doing this at your own risk, that you could easily destroy your guitar permanently, that you’re voiding your warranty, and that I’m not responsible for whatever happens.
  • About an hour of free time.

Back of the controller before disassembly

First, remove the neck. Push and hold the lever on the back that locks the neck in place, then the neck should gently slide out. Don’t force it, this is a known weak point in these guitar controllers. Set the neck aside. For Wii players, also remove the Wiimote. I don’t know what the connection looks like with the other systems, but I’m assuming that the guts of the guitar are basically the same for PS3 and Xbox, apart from the connection to the console. Keep your strap attached, as this makes it much harder to lose the posts that it attaches to.

Remove the screws from the back of the controller. For the screw beneath the warranty sticker, if you’re concerned about voiding your warranty, peel back one side of the sticker with a blade, being careful not to remove it completely or crease it, remove the screw, and replace the sticker right away. Make sure you unlock the latch at the bottom that holds the faceplate in place, then turn the controller over again and remove the two Phillips neck screws. Carefully remove the faceplate by lifting from the top and pulling towards the neck. Set the faceplate aside, and remove the two neck screws that were obscured by the faceplate. Now you can pull apart the two halves of the controller. This should come apart very easily – if you encounter resistance, make sure you’ve removed all of the screws. Remove the mounting posts for the strap and set it aside.

Remove the boards pictured here.

Turn the guitar over to reveal the circuit boards. You’re not going to be doing anything with them so don’t freak out, but electronic handling rules apply here. If you don’t have an anti-static wristband, touch something metal and grounded right before you start taking these out, and only touch the circuits by the edges. Under no circumstances should you touch any component on any of the circuits! You’ll need to remove the board in the upper right that is attached to the joystick, and the four corner screws on the strum bar circuit. Don’t remove the four screws that hold the switch down or you might cause problems. Pull the joystick circuit and the neck connector back, then you can gently lift out the strum bar circuit and pull all three back and out of the way.

Beneath the strum bar circuit is the actual strum bar, with two plastic posts holding it down. The posts might have stuck to the circuit board when you removed it – make sure you have two, and do not lose them! Now the strum bar should be free, just pull it out. Make sure you don’t lose the metal bar running through the length of it.

Strum bar removed, with felt attached to the flanges. Wiimote is there for contrast.

Now here’s the fix part. If you already knew how to remove the strum bar you probably skipped right to here. You want to build four felt spacers about a quarter-inch thick. I had to cut out eight squares of my felt (which Tay tells me is fake felt) and glue two squares together to get the thickness I needed. Your mileage may vary. If it’s not thick enough you won’t fix the problem, and if it’s too thick you won’t be able to play. Glue your spacers to the tops of the four flanges on the corners of the strum bar (see photo). When the glue dries, replace the metal bar through the strum bar and reposition the strum bar in the opening in the guitar.

Assembly is the reverse of removal. Ok no seriously, I’m going to detail it.

After you reposition the strum bar, position the two posts that hold it down, then put the circuit boards back in place. You’ll need to slide the neck connector into its slot before you place the strum bar circuit, or you’ll have trouble getting them to line up. The four long screws go in the strum bar board, the three shorter ones in the joystick controller. Make sure the posts for the guitar strap are in place in their holes at the bottom and near the top of the controller case, then put the two halves of the controller back together. Replace one or two of the Torx screws near opposite ends of the controller, then stop here and test out the feel of the strum bar. It should be firm but playable. What I mean by that is it should be tight enough so that it doesn’t spring back as much, but not so tight that you can’t play. You should have to put more force into it, but you should still be able to hear the switch click when you strum in either direction, and if you push it one way and release it, it shouldn’t make that springy noise when it comes back. If you’re not happy with it, take it all apart again and re-do your felting.

From here, reassembly is a matter of reattaching all the screws. If you still have a warranty sticker, remember the trick from above, or considering that having bits of felt glued to your strum bar is a dead giveaway that you’ve taken it apart, you might want to just rip it off and save yourself the trouble. Besides, if your controller was dead and not out of warranty you’d just send it back right? Well, if you’re not my brand of crazy, that is. Remember that there are four neck screws, and you’ll need to replace them before you reattach the faceplate, and remember to lock the faceplate. Slide the neck into the base gently, and make sure it travels freely all the way to where the lock clicks into place. Don’t force it! If it won’t go, the connector might be positioned wrong, and you could very easily snap it off, and then your guitar will be useless.

Better results ahead!

Now fire up your game and take it for a test drive! The overclicking and double-clicks should be eliminated. If you still have problems, either the felt is the wrong thickness, or you might have to accept that you have a bad switch. There are tutorials online for how to fix bad switches if you have one of the older Les Paul controllers (that have two separate switches), but I haven’t seen one for replacing these new combo switch models. But they also fail far less frequently, apparently.

Below are some more photos from the repair, in case you need more detail.

Happy gaming!

About Greg Burrell

Greg is an accountant, cyclist and political observer living in Toronto, Canada with too many cats.
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