Definitive List of Parts to Build a Fightstick

 

Quite often, we receive a request to list parts that one should buy if building a fightstick from scratch.  This is a daunting task because configurations and preferences can vary.  What we suggest may or may not fit what you or someone else may need.  That said, we have compiled a guide that should get you started on your way to building your perfect fightstick.

This list is divided into 4 parts, with sub-topics:

  1. Case and externals
  2. Printed Circuit Board (PCB) and internals
  3. Joystick
  4. Buttons

Keep in mind that this is a basic list - a general how to on parts to consider when building your first custom.  We'll include references to specific parts that we have on hand that may help, and will edit this list over time as we add new products that can help you build your dream custom fightstick.

I. CASE AND EXTERNALS

Base model: The beautiful part of building your own fightstick is having great variety in terms of housings. Whether it be made of wood, plastic, metal – or even cardboard (you have probably seen “struggle sticks” on the internet), you can turn virtually anything into your own fightstick housing. Part of the “feel” of your own custom built fightstick is created by your choice in housing. You could purchase a pre-made housing, an older legacy fightstick, or you could even take a gutted retro console and use that too!

While we can’t outwardly recommend creating your own fightstick housing if you are a complete novice (hole saws are dangerous), we can point you in the direction of places to obtain one that meets your needs. There is a great deal of freedom to experiment with different configurations when it comes to fightstick modding, and we will cover a fair amount of that in this article.


Case finish: Many pre-made plastic cases have either a matte or glossy finish per the plastic used in the mold, but custom metal and wooden cases need a protective layer to keep the materials safe from the elements. Bare metal has no protection versus oxidization – which can lead to rust. This can occasionally be seen on the bottom plate of some of the older Mad Catz TE series sticks, depending on their condition.

 It is wise to treat bare metal with a base coat of primer at the very least – then ideally, a couple base coats of color, and finally a clear coat. Many cases are sold pre-finished, though unfinished cases are also available. We have compiled a list of fightstick enclosure manufacturers below:


Artwork/Plexiglass: It’s no secret that many players love to have a themed stick, with their own artwork to showcase their favorite character or series. In many cases, players opt for a professional print job of custom joystick artwork, with a layer of plexiglass to protect the artwork. Local print shops and online retailers dedicated to printing artwork are options for obtaining a high-resolution finish for any custom job, though some who don’t have these services available create laminated prints at home.

Some simply opt for a single-color finish to match or contrast their joystick and button colors, and others go for a more elaborate design that suits all their specific tastes. If you are in search of an art and plexi vendor, Focus Attack will be offering both printing and plexi services with FA PlexWorks starting September 15th. Our art prints and plexi are of high quality, and we even do etching too – so you can take that extra step in personalization.


Extras: There are many accessories you can purchase for your fightstick to add that extra personal touch. Should you want to go the extra mile and set yourself apart from everyone else, there are higher-end extras to customize your joystick. Whether you are putting golden feet on your case, adding a felt bottom to your case for extended lap comfort in long-term session, or case LEDs for the highest levels of attention, your only limit is your own creativity. The arcade parts industry is evolving every day and we look forward to offering you the latest and greatest items.

II. PRINTED CIRCUIT BOARD (PCB) AND INTERNALS


Base PCB(s):
 A printed circuit board is the primary brain that drives most of the major functions of the average fightstick. These come in many different configurations, all suited to different needs of the consumer. A single PCB can send various inputs (such as directions, punches, kicks) to a single console, whereas custom PCBs specifically for arcade sticks can have multiple consoles supported by one PCB. Advanced users can connect multiple PCBs in a procedure known as “dual modding” - such as PS4/PS3 and Xbox One/360 - together to create a multi-console arcade stick.

PCBs may be obtained from manufacturers such as Brook and Akishop-Customs, or harvested from controllers to be "padhacked" to work inside of an arcade stick. All mass-manufactured fightsticks already come with a PCB installed, which can also be taken out and used in a custom fightstick if desired. Many custom PCBs are designed to either use quick disconnect harnesses or screw terminals. This removes the need to solder, which can be a difficult task depending on the user’s level of skill. Soldering will likely be required to work with PCBs that have been taken from game controllers or other arcade sticks. There are advanced level talking points that we could go into regarding PCBs, but for the sake of this guide’s simplicity, we will keep this section brief.



Wire and Connectors:
 A fair amount of wiring is required to connect your PCB of choice to various components of your arcade stick. At Focus Attack, we sell wire complete with quick disconnects to ensure that the wire can make contact with both the PCB and buttons. Soldering is another option to terminate your wiring, though screw terminals of the PCB will properly secure your wiring with less hassle.

Japanese pushbuttons generally use .110" quick disconnects on the pushbutton end to make contact with the PCB. Leaf spring microswitches, primarily found in non-PCB joysticks (like some Seimitsus) tend to use .187” quick disconnects on the joystick side. Quick disconnects are designed to quickly plug and unplug the wire connected to the PCB, allowing for quick button swaps. These can be crimped onto the wires of your choice, usually 22AWG. If you wish to avoid crimping, Focus Attack sells wire which has already been pre-crimped, removing the need for a special crimping tool. As each pushbutton requires both a signal and ground wire, do not forget to buy daisy chain sets to accommodate your needs for grounding each button! For example, if you have 10 pushbuttons, you will need a 10 ground set for daisy chaining.

 

 

Joysticks typically use a 5-pin harness to also unplug quickly when maintenance is required.

 

 

Pluggable external cables: Some builders prefer to have a USB A-B (or even an aviation cable!) and its respective female connection mounted on their case to keep the seamless, cordless look. Some players have even been known to use RJ-45 cables to achieve the same feel for consoles that don't use USB. In either case, an external jack and matching cables are required.

 


Extras: Arcade sticks aren’t just about what is on the outside. The inside of your arcade stick is equally as important! You should always consider your needs when looking to add on to the capabilities of your build. Need multi-console but also need that one obscure system to be compatible? You can dual modify your stick to accommodate multiple PCBs to taste. Looking to do an LED mod? You can do that as well! Want to keep your favorite games or profile with you at all times? Add a USB hub on the inside with a flash drive in one port, and plug your USB PCB into the other to keep your favorite files with you at all times.

 

III. JOYSTICK

Base Model: While there are many parts that work together, most players purchase a joystick in a single piece. The most popular model of joystick is Sanwa's flagship JLF, the joystick included in all Qanba* and Madcatz TE sticks, and many other high-end arcade sticks. Many other models of full joysticks are available, such as Seimitsu and Hori (Japan), Samducksa (Korea), Suzo Happ (America), and Industrias Lorenzo (Spain). Almost all retail cases and many custom cases will support all Japanese model arcade sticks, though these will occasionally require different mounting plates than the plates provided.

Seldom are all joystick levers created equally. You should do your research on the characteristics of the lever you are considering buying, as some may have more tension than others or a longer throw. In 2017, it’s very difficult to be unable to find a lever that meets your needs! If you play a lot of Tekken, you may want a lever that has less tension, or if you play a charge character in 2D fighters, you may want more tension. In the long run, the choice is yours!

 


PCB or Microswitches: The joystick utilizes a PCB that is connected to microswitches, which connect to the 5-pin harness and relays the joystick's current position to the PCB. There are joystick levers that do not use the 5-pin harness, and instead require direct connection to microswitches using .187” quick disconnects. Notable levers that do this are the Seimitsu LS-3x/LS-4x/LS-5x/LS-6x .187” models specifically, the Suzo Happ levers, the IL levers, and the Crown levers. When purchasing a lever from Focus Attack, be mindful of the difference of a 5-pin harness lever versus a .187” lever, as pictured below (left and right respectively):

The presence of a 5-pin connector in the first picture versus the multiple .187 terminal connections in the second should be apparent. Recent lever releases have seen the inclusion of optical and silent models. Levers using silent microswitches have been introduced with late-night practice sessions in mind, or to mask the audible cue of joystick movements from an opponent sitting next to you. Even extended lever shafts have been made to accommodate the specific needs of the few. If you find yourself needing to adapt your current 5-pin harness to a .187 adapter, that is an option as well!

Spring(s): Many players have found that the stock spring in their stick is either too loose or too tight. Springs from a sturdier or lighter joystick can provide the solution, especially when replacing a microswitch PCB reduces the tension exerted by the joystick. For example, the spring on the Sanwa JLF joystick can be swapped out to create the player's preferred amount of resistance. On the other side of the same coin, Seimitsu springs are interchangeable between other models that are Seimitsu-made.


Lever gate/restrictor style: Japanese joysticks generally include a square joystick gate. However, some players prefer the easier quarter circles of octagonal gates, or the smooth, corner-less play of a circular gate - similar to the feel of traditional American joysticks. Some models of joystick do not have all three types of gates available, although the Sanwa JLF does have all three. This can be set by removing the restrictor and re-fastening it, setting it to the desired configuration. There are also restrictors made by other manufacturers to increase the feel and response of your lever.


Ball top and bat top handles: Many joysticks will include a ball top handle. Ball tops can be a single color, and manufacturers typically will match their ball top color with their button color so as to keep uniformity. For example, a green Sanwa ball top will match green Sanwa buttons. Ball tops also come in clear, aluminum, wooden or bubble variants. Sanwa and Seimitsu balltops are interchangeable; a Sanwa balltop will fit a Seimitsu stick and vice versa. You may also prefer to use an American style bat top. In many cases bat tops are usually permanently fastened to the joystick lever they are manufactured with, but those who own Japanese levers (or any lever with a standard thread) have the option to use an adapter. In most cases, an adapter is included with bat top sales from Focus Attack. Check the item of your choice to ensure that it is part of the package.

ALU Series Aluminum Balltop: PurpleImage 1

Extras: If you're looking to have a glowing ball top, look no further than a hollow shaft and LED modified ball top. Got a sweet bag that isn’t deep enough to carry a stick without the lever engaging? Make your stick easier to carry with Phreakmods' removable joystick shaft, “The Link”, and make it the second sweetest way to transport your stick to weekly casuals. You don’t have to compromise on portability!

IV. BUTTONS

Base Model: Most manufacturers offer a complete pushbutton that is plug and play ready, complete with microswitches and appropriate fasteners to install in your stick (wiring not included). You can choose either snap-in or screw-in style pushbuttons, depending on the project you are working on. Snap-in pushbuttons are designed primarily for sticks with steel panels, while screw-in pushbuttons work better with thicker wooden panels. Screw-ins can also hold plexiglass panels in place.

Sanwa buttons are generally more sensitive than Seimitsu buttons, with Seimitsu buttons requiring a slightly harder press. Some players prefer Seimitsu buttons for their greater resistance, to avoid any accidental presses brought on by Sanwa's featherlight engagement. Hori pushbuttons have a similar resistance to Sanwa pushbuttons. These Japanese pushbuttons come in both 24mm and 30mm sizes. Both sizes of button function identically, though most players prefer to use 24mm buttons for start, back, and home buttons, and 30mm for their main action buttons. Mini sticks utilizing all 24mm buttons, however, have been created and used.

By contrast, Korean pushbuttons are also offered by Samducksa and have an even stiffer resistance to them than Seimitsu pushbuttons. But if you are looking for the highest resistance, give the American style Suzo Happ or IL pushbuttons a go.


Microswitch: The microswitch is the main working component of the button, which will relay the information to the PCB when the button is pressed or unpressed. Some pushbuttons will give you the ability to swap microswitches. Seimitsu's PS-14-K can support Sanwa pushbutton microswitches, giving them a distinct feel – lighter than a Seimitsu, but heavier than a Sanwa. You can also install non-linear Cherry switches of varying resistances in Sanwa OBS pushbuttons.


Extras: Do you have roommates and you’re trying to keep the peace, but still be able to play late at night? It’s your lucky day! You can purchase either silent pushbuttons or silent inserts for your existing ones, so nobody is kept awake by you frantically mashing wake up DP at 5 in the morning. Silent inserts fit the majority of most standard 30mm pushbuttons, and are priced to be affordable. Grab some and keep your mashing a secret from your parents, roommate, or significant other.

 

V. END

At this point, you probably have a pretty long list of parts to buy. We hope that this has been of great assistance in planning out your new arcade stick! As always, if you have any questions, just fill out a support ticket. Thanks for reading!

Have more questions? Submit a request

Comments

  • Avatar
    Owen Nisbett

    As someone who has built and moded fight sticks my self this is a great write up and resources for everything you would ever need.

Powered by Zendesk