When the PlayStation 4 launched in late 2013 many outlets, including Polygon, heaped praise on its newly redesigned controller, called the DualShock 4. But after a year and a half of steady use, many owners are suffering from torn rubber thumbsticks — a design flaw whereby the solid plastic core of the stick tears through the outer rubber cover.
It's an issue you can get taken care of under the standard 1-year warranty. Once that's passed however, the official word from Sony is that you'll need to buy a new $60 controller.
But there is a cheaper solution.
Hop on eBay right now and you can order up a set of replacement thumbsticks for as little as $6, a fraction of the cost of a replacement DualShock 4. And, if you're not a huge fan of the DS4's sticks, you can even swap them out for sticks identical to the ones found inside Xbox One controllers. As it turns out, they're interchangeable.
Polygon decided to give it a try. How challenging is this little surgical procedure? Your mileage may vary, but for us it took about a half hour and felt like something between building a model airplane and wiring up the motherboard in our first computer. Here's hoping this guide helps you out.
Before we get started, wrangle up a small Phillips head screwdriver and a pair of needle-nosed pliers.
It's at this point we need to make you aware that if your DS4 is under warranty, this kind of repair/modification may void that warranty. And, even if you follow our instructions precisely, you still run the risk of permanently damaging your DS4.
In fact, it's very likely you'll break and/or lose something. You're clumsy. There, we said it.
Furthermore, be careful not to short out the internal lithium battery. Fire is bad, and explosions are worse. Please take careful inventory of your digits and phalanges before and after the project.
Now. Where were we?
Flip your DualShock over and remove each of the four screws from the underside.
Notice how the controller has two halves? The top half is a deep, glossy black and the bottom is more gray and has a texture to it. What you want to do is gently squeeze the top, glossy half right along the length of the hand grips. There's little tabs underneath that top half, and if you squeeze gently you should be able to work them out of the gray bottom half and pop the controller right apart.
It's noisy and a little unsettling to rip a perfectly good piece of equipment apart like this, but if you're gentle no harm should come to it. With a little prying, the DS4 will open like a clamshell, with the two halves remaining connected at the shoulder buttons.
At this point, you've essentially taken the two halves apart, it's just that the triggers — which are part of the top half of the controller — are caught up on the bottom half of the controller.
The trouble is a thick tab of plastic — part of the gray bottom half of the DS4 — that sits between the shoulder button and the trigger. You can see the offending item in the picture above.
What you need to do is carefully push the top half of the controller backwards, gently working the triggers out from under this tab. If you do it right, the bottom half of the controller will just come free, dangling by a thin white ribbon cable.
If you do it wrong, one or both triggers will come off. No big deal, just don't lose the spring, pictured below.
Next, we need to disconnect the ribbon cable attached to the bottom of the controller. It's a paper-thin cable that runs to the light on the front of the DS4. It's about two inches long, and connects to the top half of the controller inside a small, light beige catch. Using your pliers, you can reach out and grab the cable and pull it out of the catch.
Go ahead and put the bottom half of the controller to one side. We're done with it for now.
Staring you in the face is the DS4's battery. Using your finger and thumb, work the battery's connector pins free.
Don't pull on the wires themselves, but rather the head of the connector pin which is white. There are no toggles or clips holding it together, it's just a simple friction fit with a single channel on one side to make sure you've got the positive and negative wires in the right place. It's virtually impossible to put it back together wrong. If you do, bad things are likely to happen.
Put the battery to the side, along with the other half of the controller you just removed.
Next, remove the rubber reset button from the upper right corner of the battery housing. Then, remove the single screw holding the blue circuit board in place.
Once you've gotten that last screw out, things get a lot more fiddly.
Below that circuit board are the buttons, many of which are free-floating. If you drop your controller at this point in the process, or tip it up at the wrong angle, everything is likely to fall out into your lap. Proceed cautiously.
Tipping what's left of the controller up slightly you should be able to see the free end of a second ribbon cable. Inside our controller, this tab was colored blue.
Using your pliers again, just grab the blue tab and pull it right out of its catch.
With that ribbon cable removed, you've finished gutting your DS4. The main board — sticks and all — should fall right out. Swing the board out, towards you, taking care not to damage the power cables going to the rumble motors inside each grip.
It's at this point where you'll more than likely dislodge either the Share or the Options button. If they fall on your floor, here's what you're looking for:
The buttons are bevelled to match the curve of the top of the controller, so when you drop them back in you'll need to be sure to put them in the right way.
Here's what they should look like when they're installed correctly from the back side.
From here, it's a fairly simple matter to remove the damaged thumbsticks and replace them with new ones. Again, no tabs or clips; just a simple friction fit.
Here's our damaged PS4 thumbstick after we removed it, resting on the DS4's main board just below its actuator.
Just press on your replacement DS4 thumbsticks or, if you're daring, Xbox One thumbsticks like we have here. Now you're ready to start reassembly.
After you replace the main board, screw it back in place. Then, return the first of the ribbon cables to its catch. Then you'll need to put the reset button back in. Again, it's quite small. Here's a picture of it in case you've misplaced it.
The reset button is cylindrical and has a larger flat end, and a tiny pointed end. It's that pointed end that will go back into the battery housing as shown in the picture below.
Once it's in, the battery housing should look like this.
If you knocked a trigger off, putting them back together is a little trickier.
Each trigger will have two posts where it clips to the controller's top half. The loop of the spring goes around the inside post on the trigger. Then, one end of the spring fits within the trigger and the other end fits inside a little channel cut into the controller, shown at the arrow below.
With the little loop of the spring around the inside post of the trigger, and the top of the spring under and within the trigger itself, firmly press the trigger's posts back into place while encouraging the bottom of the spring into that channel on the controller.
It's not as hard as it sounds, and if things don't line up correctly once you get the trigger seated you can wiggle the spring around with the tip of your screwdriver to get it where it needs to go.
Re-install the battery, then re-insert the other ribbon cable and start gingerly working the top and bottom halves of the controller back together. Press firmly just about everywhere until the seams line up, and then put the four screws back in.
Voila; one newly refurbished DS4.
Oddly enough, the reason that the Xbox One sticks work on the DS4 is because their stems are the same thickness as the stems on the DS4, giving the sticks the same amount of travel. The pads are a little smaller, but they seem to be less prone to wearing out. Again, your mileage may vary.
If you've got any questions, or run into any unexpected problems with your own repair, stop by the comments below. We'll do our best to help you through them.