Retro + MAME joystick build

I have a right-handed QuickShot 162, a Tac-2 modded with terminal keyboard fire button, and an old arcade panel with a JK microswitch joystick and blade-switch buttons that I put across my knee whenever I feel the urge. :) Why make a new one?

Well, in the quest for the ultimate joystick, the JK one is pretty perfect, except the sound level is distracting, and I was curious to see if

  • a) something had happened to improve arcade gear since the 80s, and
  • b) if I could build a quieter and better joystick than the only available option for new ready-built joysticks: “fighting sticks”.

I took photos. Here's the >> Picture Gallery - numbers correspond to the build steps below.




I asked current advice on forums, and ordered the best (very expensive) gear that met the criteria of silent and not bulky. Unfortunately for some of us, the 90s fighting stick sickness extends to today, all the way back to components. So:

  • Sanwa JLF Silent with oversize actuator 
  • Sanwa OBSF silent 30mm buttons (You can see the note there on 24mm vs 30mm for how stuck everyone is in their thinking. Nothing will happen unless we do something. 27mm? 20mm? Concave AND silent buttons? Unthinkable! But tons of color options are no problem, all with the same "cheap toddler's toy" look...)
  • Laminated Chassis Plywood (320 x 160 x 12mm, in retrospect I would have made it 1cm wider all around)
  • 3mm thin Yoga mat
  • Synthetic vinyl cloth

I'm sure some of you have been frustrated, looking for just a good new joystick.

This build + mods is making the best of such a similar, personal frustration. Just give us a good joystick?


I used pretty much all the tools I already owned for soldering, screwing, drilling, laminating, inserting some hotglue, etc. Cough. Plus -

  • 6mm staple gun (for the Yoga mat)
  • Bosch Selfcut Speed 30mm drill bit


Numbers correspond to picture numbers in The Gallery.

  1. Make holes in panels. Pre-drill with 7mm if you get a drill steel with a silly threaded tip like the Bosch, and burst-thrust to get through the layers. Ahem.
  2. Test with parts so you get the buttons in the right place, instead of where they are on fighting stick panels. (Actually, hand placement dictated the layout before drilling...)
  3. Fit some vinyl cloth. The panel is so shiny, stiff and hard that it can hurt your hand from prolonged use, and as you know, eventually you will go blind.
  4. Cut corners less than 45 degrees and they won't overlap, leaving 12mm and test-press to see that it fits like a suit. This part was quite fun actually, I felt like a tailor :)
  5. The Quickshot joystick donated its Player 2 extra DB9 cable :) Just thinking about connection options here. As you can see, better put a piece of wood under the panel to avoid flaking when the drill bit goes through...
  6. Iron some of the vinyl cloth between 2 sheets of paper (mech keyboard trick to make things thinner) to replace the impotent dead feeling of the original rubber rings, and provide more button travel.
  7. Button mod #2: Superglue the rubber rings to remove the release-clak of plastic against plastic that leading joystick and keyboard manufacturers seem to not hear. Are they deaf or just dumb? ;)
  8. Put some tape for protection and use a D-shaped scalpel to trim off the rubber inside without scratching the cheap plastic.

Wee, I'm done! Let's play some games :)

Amiga game Apidya with custom joystick

Button layout: Most retro/arcade games use only fire1 (middle). Upper button is assigned to up+fire2, lower button to down+fire3. See #2 and #18 for usage in the lap and hand placement.

Actually, it was pretty good and I played a bunch of games and did beat some previous high-scores. But the joystick was not tight - it felt like it was on skates. Tried the 2lb spring, but it's just too stiff. Fine, just too much throw. OK, shiny, slippery buttons looking as cheap as the plastic they're made of. I'll soon fix that.

Rebuild then:

  1. Button mod #3 and #4: make the buttons less crappy and wobbly by putting 0.05mm of Scotch Magic Tape on the plunger, and put a nice, matte sheen on the buttons using the finest sanding paper with foam under it, then a strop to round the scratches. It looks much better than on the picture, and feels great :)
  2. Resolder cables... mid-stage picture to show the ironed thin vinyl between the joystick plate and panel. Again some tailoring that took some custom fitting.
  3. Resolder done, and a wire clip to tidy up plus a cable strain relief.
  4. For no reason, someone decided long ago that the stick of a joystick should stick out past the microswitches, and that's how it's stayed, from lack of ideas. A custom piece of laminated, thin cardboard provides progress, and ensures the stick can move, while its sticky sticking-outness is protected from touchedness and interferingness. Boxes on desks and sofa tables are for peasants who like wrist pain!
  5. Likewise, wiring and button pins are protected for esoteric reasons.
  6. A corner of an inexpensive Yoga mat provides comfort and skin-friendliness in the lap.
  7. Needs four more staples, but depth is minimized. Very slim - 38mm including the 3mm Yoga mat
  8. The finished product, bar painting the staples.
  9. A close-up.
  10. On my lap. Not at all the clunky, noisy, beasty boxiness of a “fighting stick”. :) This works very well for me, but if you want a box or wood sides, clearance inside under this joystick must be 35mm.
  11. Ready to take on Agony.
  12. And Apidya. (And many more have been played, thanks for the game name dropping @ Commodore Amiga Facebook group!)


Arcade joysticks and buttons really haven't evolved enough in 30 years. The major problem is that the components are not dedicated for gaming use, but for industrial use.

Now, that would be excellent for arcade cabinets taking abuse 30 years ago! But - newsflash - now we game at home again, and would like excellent components for that, instead of these coarse components that we have to mod the shit out of to make decent. No, those who agree probably couldn't out-buy the diseased one-track minds who just play Neo-Geo fighting games. You should do it because you care about more types of gaming than one very limited kind. You sell joysticks. But really just a bunch color matching options of the same bad joystick model.

Available joysticks have too much throw from hitting the microswitches with the middle of the stick rather than the end; button microswitches themselves are silent and nice! - but put inside a cheap plastic plunger boombox with no release damping to nullify it. This is a common mod for anyone who's cared about mechanical keyboards.

The result is that by doing these mods myself, I now have a silent joystick suitable for retro gaming plus (via USB encoder board), for MAME. The throw is still far from tight enough, so that this has inspired me to make a third ultimate (well, really just proper) joystick build. I've had a lot of fun with it last few days :) but there's that outcry again - just a good joystick. It really is frustrating to see the same improper components everywhere, and this makes it all the harder to find different, good kinds. This is the reason for my vocal outbursts against fighting sticks.

So. Build it yourself. But next time, I'll use other components - If you know someone who actually makes or sells more than the usual balltop and battop suspects, contact me!

>> Build Photos