Looking to get started modding or repairing Game Boys? This page is to serve as a quick reference for recommended tools to have. This is by no means an exhaustive list or even a requirement, just a range of what is definitely useful for any repairs or mods. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what you need.
Please forgive the camelCase for the section headers. I still haven’t quite figured out how to do quick links otherwise and I figured I’d take care of the content first.
ALWAYS ENSURE THAT YOU DO YOUR RESEARCH AND WEAR YOUR PROPER PROTECTIVE EQUIPEMENT (PPE)! At minimum, this includes eye protection. Do not be a fool and cheap out on this.
- Hand Tools
- Electric Tools
Well, manual tools. There’s another section with electronic hand tools so I feel that’s the distinguishing characteristic. You’ll probably want some sorting trays of some sort. It helps when dealing with a bunch of small parts. No specific recommendations as each person will have different requirements or tastes.
To even open the Game Boy, you need some screw drivers. No exceptions. Game Boy consoles are primarily assembled with JIS and Triwing screws, some models use both, some only use JIS. JIS IS NOT PHILLIPS! A Phillips driver will work on JIS screws but technically so will a flathead driver. Getting a good toolset in advance will significantly reduce the likelihood of stripped or sheared screws. As long as you use the proper driver, you will never strip a screw and have to drill it out.
- In most cases, the best bang/buck toolkit is the iFixit Mako Set
- A dedicated set of JIS drivers is only a few dollars cheaper than this multi set and this set comes with multiple sizes of triwing, gamebit, and various other tools for other things you might want to take apart. It’s a fantastic kit for the money. Other vendors, like Wiha or Wera, also make fantastic tools but none with tripoint bits.
If you can’t swing an ifixit or equivalent kit, these are some of the specific tools you would need otherwise. These tools are much lower quality and are not always the proper size (for example, the ifixit kit comes with four different triwing bits and three are all for different Game Boy models) or even properly hardened and are somewhat likely to strip or shear screws. You can get by doing one or two mods or repairs with these but it’s not recommended.
- Gamebit driver: https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=gamebit+driver
- The 3.8mm is for opening Game Boy and Game Boy Color games for cleaning or battery replacements or whatever. The 4.5mm driver is for SNES or N64 games.
- Triwing screwdriver: https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=triwing+screwdriver
- Look for the one with the large, clear, square shaped red resin handle. The round ones tend to be lower quality and the small ones are just harder to use because it’s difficult to get a good grip on them.
- These are for opening most older model Game Boys. Anything other than the initial batch of DMGs all the way to the last model of Game Boy Advance. These screwdrivers will work on the SP and Micro (and DS series) but are not the proper size and will potentially strip your screws and give you a hard time. You’ll also need a decent Phillips driver (though JIS is still strongly recommended).
If you are planning on doing any mods, you’ll likely want a good set of flush cutters. CHP-170 seems to be the popular choice based on the quality of the tool and general availability. Other brands are mostly fine but these are highly regarded. You’ll want these for trimming things flush like shells for IPS mods or cart reader pins for, well, IPS mods. Great for trimming wire too.
Another good tool will be a razor blade. Bare razor blades can be used as scrapers to remove polarizers (like from UV damaged MGB or DMG screens), box cutters can be used to help trim shells to create openings or to make room for an IPS screen (flush cutters also works for this but this usually is cleaner) using the score and bend technique (repeatedly score the material with the blade and then snap off the cut on the score mark). A good pair of needle nose pliers will go well with this. No links for either because both will have very wide local availability. A hobby knife (like X-Acto) can also be incredibly useful.
Wire strippers. If you’re doing any soldering, you’ll likely have wire that needs to be trimmed. If you’re doing it frequently, you’ll want a tool that does it for you. You can do with with a razor or with scissors (please stop using your teeth, you monster). Klein makes a good one. Size dedicated strippers are cheaper and work well if you’re always using the same few gauges. Automatic wire strippers are much more expensive and do not usually work well on the small gauge wires that are common in this hobby (especially the cheap automatic strippers).
Pliers are really useful so they deserve a second mention. Again, no links because local availability should be overwhelming.
A good pair of tweezers. Not the cheapo ones that come in kits, but a good “precision electronics” tweezers. Look for those keywords and you shouldn’t go wrong. Ceramic tips are nice if you’re doing hot air work but otherwise you want the fine point ones. The curved tip ones are best, usually. A kit is not necessary, one is good enough. Or two if you lose things often. There are better options but the price seems to go up exponentially. These are good enough.
Hemostat tools. These are surprisingly useful. They are basically the step between pliers and tweezers and the locking function comes in handy more often than you’d think. Plus, they really make you feel like a plastic surgeon.
A PCB holder or a set of “helping hands.” Both are great. Not terribly useful if you’re not doing solder work though. Options range greatly and vary significantly with preference. You don’t know what you like until you’ve already found it.
Runs on angry pixies. Either the plug in variant or the spicy pillow variant. You’ll want good lighting anytime you need to do some work. How you set up that lighting is entirely up to you. Head lamps can be good but usually a well lit room is good enough lighting.
You’ve got quite a few options here. Most people just need a basic, temperature controlled iron, and for most onsies and twosies jobs, nearly anything will do. If you want something quality that will not give you hassle or help you destroy your electronics, take a look at this video from Voultar. There is very solid advice in there from an experienced modder and even a recommendation for a specific iron. Voultar will never lead you astray. If nothing else, your takeaway should be to look for something with easy to find, name brand tips (like Hakko or Weller) and temperature control.
Quick summary of affordable irons suitable for enthusiasts:
- KSGER T12 (affiliate link through Voultar’s shop - see Soldering Station / Soldering Equipment section) - ~$55
- Internals may vary so it’s difficult to guarantee that the item you will receive is of the same quality
- Tips widely and cheaply available - e.g. Aliexpress
- Miniware TS-100 - ~$70
- Pinecil - $25 / $35 @ Amazon
- Currently pre-retail release via Pinecil site; as such may not ship to all countries and warranty is limited to 30 days. Buying from Amazon instead may help with logistics; if warranty is a concern, wait for full release or purchase a different iron
- Also does not include power supply - compatible with 12-21V 5.5mm barrel jack supplies similar to the TS-100. Also supports USB-C PD, so any USB-C charger with USB-C PD capable of providing enough power will work
- You will need to buy a stand too - Pine64 sell a small one cheaply but options for the TS-100 should fit this too
- Uses the same tips as the TS-100 - tips / power supply / USB-C cables also available from Pine64 site directly
Hot air is also an option for soldering. While not useful for battery mods, battery replacements, or backlight installs, they are a fantastic option or may even be required for custom PCB mods or flash cart builds. If you want the best available option for hot air, check out this video from Louis Rossmann. He may be a little bit biased because he’s cheap and because he sells them, but these stations still seem highly regarded. Otherwise eevblog has quite a few different videos on hot air.
While not technically an electronic tool, a desoldering pump can be very useful to have. While a bit pricier than other models, the Engineer SS-02 is one of the best tools for this job. There are more expensive desoldering irons that would replace this tool but unless your day job involves desoldering constantly, it’s likely not worth the high price.
Any cutting tools that run on electricity are just more expensive versions of the hand tools but will do the job quicker and, with practice, a much better finish. Tired of trimming shells by hand for a screen mod? Why not get a rotary tool? If you look into this, you’ll likely be overwhelmed with choice, even just locally. Dremel is a popular brand (and in this case, for good reason). Speed control is recommended but not required. Battery powered tools offer more convenience over their plug in brethren but will not be as powerful. For plastic cutting, this might just mean you have to cut slower but for metal cutting, this will be a deal breaker. Check local hardware stores or even pawn shops.
If you get a rotary tool, you’ll probably want some bits. Generally, one of those variety packs will contain everything you need and the specific bit you want will depend entirely on personal preference and what you’re typically cutting. If you end up with a rotary tool stand, you will want milling bits, however. Again, specific bits will vary depending on preference, specific hardware, and what you’re actually cutting, but something like this will work very well in a rotary tool in a stand.
A rotary tool stand can make certain jobs very easy. If you have to cut out the inside of a shell for a screen mod, a rotary tool stand will let you lock the height of the tool (and thus ensure an even cut depth) and move the work piece around under the tool to remove material. A rotary tool stand will depend entirely on your specific model (Dremel makes one for their tools, etc.) so no specific recommendations here either. A rotary tool stand is required to use a milling type bit like linked above.
For troubleshooting rechargeable systems (SP and Micro), having a USB power cable can be very helpful. Or at least a known working AC adapter. USB power cables can be had for all systems for a few dollars shipped on ebay or aliexpress. All rechargeable Game Boy models (and DS models) will charge just fine over USB (it is technically out of spec but should still be within tolerance).
Non rechargeable systems will likely have a port for external power (AGB has an adapter), and usually you can use a USB cable for this as well. Most systems will take 3v (or 6v for DMG) instead of the USB 5v but USB cables are available for this as well. Kitsch-Bent sells a DMG cable for pretty cheap and Retro Modding sells a Game Boy Color and Game Boy Pocket compatible cable for a little bit more. These are just examples, other vendors stock these as well. These are not for recharging, just for testing a console off of external power.
A bench power supply can be very useful for testing as well. Keeping batteries on hand is fine for testing assembled consoles but usually is not helpful if you have to troubleshoot a PCB. Depending on your budget (and how often you may use this), useful tools can range from a dual AA battery holder with alligator clips to a full bench power supply. A full bench supply gives you more flexibility in that you can enable current limiting to ensure that if there is a short, you aren’t going to let the magic smoke out or you can fully set the voltage to test at in the case of different systems or just testing a low battery scenario without having to actually run down a set of batteries.
Most of the links in this section have been compiled by Voultar (affiliate link) but the links below are NOT affiliate links. He knows his stuff and has compiled a good list of good things. If you want to support him, use the link above, if not, well that’s fine too and there are links below.
It would be nice to just have to stock up on things once but unfortunately, there are supplies that are extremely useful but get used up as you use them. A common item example would be batteries. Alkalines are not rechargeable and it is always handy to have at least one good pair for testing. A good set of NiMh can replace this but due to self discharge, it may be more handy to just have regular alkalines on hand for testing.
You need wire to install most mods. A lot of mod kits will come with wire that you can use but not all do. For internal use, solid core wire is generally better than stranded wire. It will carry more current for the size and generally will stay where you put it (not as flexible). For external use, stranded wire is required over solid core as solid core will fatigue much more quickly with bends and other stress. Depending on the specific mod or repair, 30 AWG solid core wire wrapping wire is good for internal stuff or stranded core 28 AWG for general purpose (internal or external).
Heat shrink tube is good for bundling wires or for covering wire splice joints. Take your pick. Don’t forget to consider what you are using it on, small diameter wire requires small diameter heat shrink. USB connectors and such require larger heat shrinks.
Tape is good for holding things in place. There are lots of different tapes for different purposes. Lets start insulation tape. Polyimide tape (name brand Kapton) is a very good high temperature tape. It will insulate electrically or hold things in place with ease. Unlike electrical tape, the adhesive won’t break down and leave a digusting goop to be cleaned up. You can get unbranded tape that will perform just the same as the branded stuff from ebay or aliexpress (e.g. from amazon). Need to hold something in place temporarily to get it out of the way (like a ribbon cable or wire)? Why not use some painters tape or masking tape? In this particular case, the name brand stuff is worth paying for. Last, doublesided tape. Good for holding in LCDs or screen lenses. You can get the cheap stuff from aliexpress or ebay, but for tape you get what you pay for. 3M 300LSE is the good stuff and it comes in sheets and rolls. Pick a size and form factor that works for what you want to do with it.
If you’re doing any soldering, you’ll probably need some solder. In the hobby electronics field, leaded solder still remains king. 60/40 and 63/37 are both good but the specific brand probably matters more. Kester makes the good stuff. If for some reason you cannot get leaded solder in your area, you’ll have to do more research. Leaded solder melts at a lower temperature, flows much easier, and is quite a bit cheaper.
Speaking of soldering, flux is a necessary component for soldering. Your solder likely has a rosin core which will help significantly but is not good enough in all cases. You’ll want some flux to make the job easier. Without flux, you are making the job significantly more difficult than it needs to be. MG Chemicals makes some really good liquid flux and Amtech makes good paste flux. The difference between paste flux and liquid flux is just the viscosity of the material, both will do the same thing once at temp and is generally just personal preference. Some people also prefer to use a flux pen. Regardless, flux does need to be cleaned up and the liquid flux is much easier to clean than the paste flux.
Desoldering wick is helpful for cleaning up excess solder or for trying to desolder components. Usually a solder sucker will do the job but it’s helpful to have this stuff too as it will get things that a solder sucker cannot and vice versa. MG Chemicals makes the good stuff here too.
Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) is fantastic for cleaning electronics. As a solvent, it will break down flux very quickly and easily and most other things that you might end up finding on a PCB that aren’t supposed to be there. The higher the percent usually the better but at least 70% is good to start with. You can get this (usually) from a local drug store or supermarket, global pandemic not withstanding. This is only for use with PCBs, and definitely NOT for screens or plastics. If you get IPA inside your LCD, you will ruin it.
IPA alone won’t do much cleaning. You’ll need to apply it to something like a cotton swab (name brand Q-Tip) to do the cleaning. You can usually also get these from your local drug store or super market. These are the things that you’re not supposed to stick in your ears but most people do anyway. Well, they pair well with IPA for cleaning PCBs.
Another option for cleaning with IPA is a cotton towel. Swabs work for small areas but a towel will work better for bigger areas. An old t-shirt is usually all you need.
Microfiber towels are great for cleaning screens or screen lenses. Get from your local automotive supply store, preferably without wax.