Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade


I was experiencing ‘misses’ with my fret buttons. I’d seen lots of mods that replaced the original ‘conductive membrane-type’ keyboard with keyboard switches.

I used my DIY CNC Mill to isolation route a prototype replacement circuit board (Figure 8). The design replaces the circuit board (#1 in figure 1) with a new board, yet keeps the same ribbon cable and connector PC Board (#2 and #3 in figure 1).

Despite using low-profile switches, it was still necessary to ‘hollow-out’ 1.4mm from the underside of the keycaps (Figure 10).


Watch the video

Here is step-by-step from beginning-to-end on how to install a replacement fret board.

In the video, I put a GH-04 board into a World Tour Guitar for Wii.

Note that all the boards install using pretty much exactly the same process. Some have one screw holding the board down, some have two, some have split ribbon cables, some have one some have more wires, some have fewer. All variations on the same theme!

Special Thanks

I borrowed some images from Guitar Hero Fret Buttons Mod by sonic_dan on Instructables. He did a much better job with photographs than I did. Check out Sonic Dan’s post for great instructions on disassembly to access the PC Board.

Open Guitar Neck to Access PC Board

Refer to Guitar Hero Fret Buttons Mod by sonic_dan on Instructables for details on how to open the neck of the guitar.

PRO TIP: Take some photos before you unscrew or remove the printed circuit board.

Figure 1 shows the neck opened.

  1. The original circuit board. Held in place with two screws.
  2. The ribbon cable
  3. The circuit-board that mates to a connector in the guitar body.

The circuit board (item 1) will be replaced. Items 2 and 3 will be re-used.

Remove the two screws holding the fret-button PC Board. The ribbon cable (#2) and small connector PCB (#3) will just lift out.

Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 1 – Guitar Hero neck opened-up.
1. Circuit board, 2. Ribbon cable, 3. Connector PC Board.
Image source: Guitar Hero Fret Buttons Mod by sonic_dan on Instructables.

Mark and remove the cable

Notice the numbers on the PC board (red arrows). The cable will be re-soldered to the new PC board in this same order, however the wires will enter the new PC board from the “other” side.

PRO TIP: Mark this cable such that you can ensure it is re-installed in the correct orientation. Watch the video above and check out Wiring Details for HobbyCNC Mechanical Fret Buttons.

Although the wiring will enter the ‘other side’ of the new PC board, pins 1-4 and 5-8 are in the same place, so the same side of the cable will still be “up” as it is now.

Unsolder and remove the ribbon cable from the fret switch PC Board. Use care as this is stranded wire and it can get messed-up such that reinstallation can be a challenge.

PRO TIP: The easiest method I’ve found is to pull gently on the ribbon cable and move the soldering iron tip back-and-forth across all the solder joints (think “harmonica”). 

Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 2 – Ribbon-cable connection to the fret button PC Board. It will be re-installed in exactly the same orientation.

The Fret Switch PC Board & Parts

#4 is the ‘underside’ of the fret switch pc board. This is the side you will un-solder the ribbon cable from.

#5 is the flexible, conductive membrane that provides the ‘springy’ part of the switch and makes connection when the fret button is pushed.

#6 is where the ribbon cable is un-soldered.


Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 3 – Fret switch PC Board removed, with the ‘business side’ up. Unsolder the ribbon cable (#6).

Low Profile Keyboard Switches

I used a Kailh Low Profile Choc Burnt Orange – Tactile switch, 70g  (Figure 4).

Figure 5 is copied from the switch .

These switches are reasonably priced and have a huge life-cycle.

Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 4 – The low-profile keyboard switch. Rear view (left) and front view (right)

Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 5 – Physical dimensions of the Kailh Low Profile switch.

Schematic and PC Board Layout

I use KiCad to design the (very simple) schematic and PC board. I took care to ensure the wiring matches the existing Guitar Hero board so the same ribbon cable can be used without any modification.

Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 6 – Schematic for GH-01 fret board switches.

Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 7 – Fret switch PC Board design (top view). Note the traces are on the ‘bottom’ of the board.

Prototype PC Board

Naturally, since I’m all about CAD/CAM, I wanted to share the prototype board I milled with my DIY CNC Router using a technique called Isolation Routing. This allowed me to test the switch spacing, switch mounting holes/pattern and the mounting holes to attach the PC Board to the guitar neck.

Once this was all good, I was comfortable to commit to having some PC Boards professionally made.

Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 8 – Fret switch PC Board (prototype) bottom side. Made using Isolation Routing technique.

Professional PC Boards

I liked the results, so I decided to have a few professional PC Boards made. These are much easier to assemble, thanks to the solder mask.

Insert the switches from the “top” side (the side with the white lettering).
To make sure the switches are installed ‘flat’ with the pc board, put one switch at each of the board, carefully flip it over and solder the two end switches first.

Insert the remaining switches and solder them in place.
The switches will install only one way.



Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 9 – Professionally made PC Boards. Bottom image shows switches (not included) properly installed.

Modify the Fret Buttons

The new Kailh Low Profile Tactile switch sits about 1.4mm taller than the old ‘membrane’ type switch (#5 in figure 3).

To adapt for this, I needed to mill-out 1.4mm from the underside of the fret buttons (B in Figure 10).

I have the luxury of a small mill, so it was easy for me. Whatever method you use, be sure to make every button consistent or you might end up with an ‘uneven’ feel to the fret buttons.

Cut too shallow and the button stays pressed, too deep and the button may not activate at all. Both those should be fixable!

Check out the Modify Fret Buttons page for tips and tricks on how to remove material from the back of the fret buttons.


Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 10 – Fret button modification. A) “stock” fret button, B) Modified fret button with 1.4mm removed.

STL files for 3D printing

I’ve gathered the latest STL files on the STL files for 3D printing page.

The idea is to print several at different ‘lengths’ and try them out. When you find the one that works best, print four more!

And if you do print from these STL files, please leave me some feedback at the bottom of the STL files for 3D printing page. 

Guitar Hero STL 3d Print files HobbyCNC

Figure 11 – Example of STL files on the 3D printer bed, ready for printing.


8. Put the modified fret buttons back in place. Use the same screws to retain the new PC board.
9. Verify the ribbon cable is in the original orientation.
11. Route the cable and re-install the connector PC board.


No changes or modifications are required to the neck of the guitar. The only mods are for the underside of the fret buttons (Figures 10 & 11.)

When I opened my guitar neck, there were already several holes in the ribbon cable (#10). Not sure if that was intentional or accidental, but either way it had no impact electrically.

Guitar Hero Fret Switch Upgrade - HobbyCNC

Figure 12 – New fret PC Board (#9) installed and ribbon cable (#11) re-soldered.
There were holes already punctured in the ribbon cable (#10).