Joystick primer

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Okay so you bought your arcade stick for a huge ass sum and think you are now good to go now, but no, you are only in the starting point. The next part that comes in a chronological order for every arcade stick owner out there is... modding it.

There are lots of ways to customize ones arcade stick and joysticks are the most important factor. If your arcade stick comes with all Sanwa parts you are up to a good start because these are high quality parts, especially Sanwa buttons which are some of the best in the market so there is barely any reason to change them unless you get accidental presses due to their early activation point. But since this is about joysticks lets talk sticks.

There are multiple different joysticks on the market and while JLF, which comes equipped with majority of the arcade sticks, is a good choice, it will only give you one perspective of how joysticks work. If there's something you don't like about the stick you can try to mod it to fit to your preferences by replacing the spring with a tighter one, changing the actuator to modify the distances of the joystick or changing the microswitches to the ones you like, but the general feel of the stick will remain similiar in which case you may want to try out different joysticks instead.

The problem with finding the perfect joystick for yourself is, that there isn't a single "best" joystick; it all comes down to preferences. Different types of joysticks also generally work better for some games while they perform worse for the others.

  • For regular 2D fighting games Japanese joystick are the best since they allow for quick repeated motions but their looseness makes precise movement in 3D games harder.
  • For 3D fighting games that are more based on movement, Korean sticks work better because these games don't have complex motions on them and the combos are generally easier to perform, so instead you want a joystick that hits single directions as precisely as possible. They don't perform as well on 2D games however because their stiffness makes complex motions harder to perform as quickly.
  • For shmups the best joystick is one with the shortest throw on it that allows you to quickly change between the directions.

Joysticks can be generally divided into 3 categories which are Japanese-, Korean- and Americanstyle joysticks which all have their different charasterics. Naturally all were used in their respected regions. European and USA based arcades relied on American joysticks, Japanese were playing on their Sanwa and Seimitsu joysticks and Koreans eventually replaced their joysticks with their Taeyoungs.

If you aren't used to modding and arcade parts already, refer to the glossary in the end of the article whenever you encounter terms you don't recognize.

Japanese joysticks

Japanese joysticks are the most popular in the market and most commonly used in all fighting games. While the rest of the world simply kept their joystick movement to circlular, these guys went a bit farther with their thinking and restricted their joystick movement to a square with the use of restrictor gates.

Why? Because on a simple 8-way joystick it makes finding corners easier and allows for more precise inputs when all direction areas are equally as big. Take slides on Tekken for example; How many times you have accidentally missed your slide input (FC df,d,df) on a circular stick because you have went too far in your movement while trying to do it fast and accidentally hit forward? I know I have done that multiple times.

On a japanese stick this is practically impossible to do because you hit the corner and know that you have reached downforward.

Japanese sticks all use springs inside the actuators to give their sticks their resistance which on stock products are usually light, so they are easy to move around. The microswitches in the joysticks are often soldered to the PCB since they use 5-pin connectors, which unfortunately makes it so that you can't simply just switch the microswitches to the ones of your liking and if one of your switches stop working, there's nothing else you can do but buy a completely new joystick more or less.

Maybe if you are good at soldering you can desolder the old switches and replace them with new ones and use some conductive material to connect the new microswitch feet to the bottom of the PCB. It's a mess anyway and not very customer friendly implementation.

Seimitsu offers 2 versions of their joysticks, ones that use PCB connected to a 5-pin connector and ones that don't so if you get a Seimitsu stick, I recommend buying one without a PCB on it and to buy a .187 to 5-pin harness for connecting it into your arcade stick instead.

Out of the brands, Sanwa dominates the market with Seimitsu being the contender. The third company in the market is Hori who developed their Hayabusa stick for use in their arcade sticks.

Sanwa JLF

Sanwa JLF
Sanwa JLF

JLF is the most popular joystick out there that comes installed in pretty much every premium arcade stick on the market with their prices starting from 200€ or higher. If you are an arcade stick manufacturer just stick a JLF on it and you are good to go.

The joystick is very compact so it fits inside basically anything while at the same time it has the preciseness you would expect from a high quality joystick. The throw distance of the stick is on the medium size but that mixed in with the lightness of the spring and the Omron microswitches that are among the lightest out there, allows for some quick, precise inputs making it great for 2D games. For 3D games it's a bit finicky, but if Japanese Tekken pros perform well with their JLFs there's no reason you shouldn't be able to do the same.

Hori Hayabusa

Hori Hayabusa
Hori Hayabusa

Basically a JLF clone which shares many aspects of the original JLF.

Some arcade stick brands develop their own parts to save money on the expenses since massproducing that stuff yourself instead of ordering in bulks from other companies helps bring the price of their arcade sticks lower and FGC being as poverty as they are, are all into that cheap stuff. Hori did the same by developing their own stick and buttons but while these self-made joysticks usually suck dick, Hayabusa comes very close to the quality of JLF if not even surpass it.

The resistance of this joystick feels very unique which might be thanks to the combination of the stiffer Panasonic AM5 microswitches and the unique housing the joystick uses. Compared to JLF it doesn't feel as smooth but that makes it feel more precise and responsive and this in turn makes movement in games like Tekken much easier compared to stock JLF and gives you less movement errors while you can still easily perform fast motions in 2D games effortlessly. It's a great balance.

Whatever I threw at it, it performed in a way that exceeded all my expectations from it. It's a high quality joystick and if you already have one that came in a Hori arcade stick, there is no reason to change it to another Japanese stick really. Definitely personally my favorite Japanese joystick overall.

Keep in mind however that the stick has a huge body to it that may not fit inside all arcade sticks because it actually is so big that the connector comes in the way of buttons, so do some research to see if it fits on yours before you decide to try it out. In the best case scenario you only need to take the button out and forcibly put it back in which bends the 5-pin cable's connector a little but doesn't affect anything.

Seimitsu LS-32

Seimitsu LS-32
Seimitsu LS-32

Seimitsu offers the biggest catalog of joysticks of the 3 but their build quality generally isn't on the same level.

Their joysticks are most known for their short throw distances and LS-32 is their most popular model that is mainly used for shmups in which it excels. It's fine for fighting games as well as the short throw can make motions easier to perform since you don't need to move your joystick as much when riding the gate.

The spring inside the joystick is slightly more heavy than in JLF which makes it harder to move compared to stock JLF but not by much, and similarly to Hayabusa, it uses Panasonic's AM5 microswitches but a different levered model that is more lighter to activate which comes similiar to the feel of Omron switches.

The handle of the joystick itself is smaller than that of JLF so it will sit roughly 5mm lower than other Japanese sticks when mounted. If your arcade stick supports it, mounting the joystick directly into the arcade stick without the use of a mounting plate might be a better option to go with since it raises the height of it.

Seimitsu LS-40

Seimitsu LS-40
Seimitsu LS-40

LS-40 is very similiar to LS-32 and shares some parts of it, including the microswitches and the spring, but it's biggest difference is that it has a bigger actuator on it that makes the engage distance even shorter than that of LS-32. It is so incredibly short however, that in my opinion, there are barely any reasons you would ever want it that short. The throw distance is supposedly shorther on it as well but I can't tell the difference between the two, they are extremely close to each other.

The shaft of LS-40 is slightly bigger compared to LS-32 and comes with a shaft cover unlike LS-32, but it's still roughly 3mm lower than that of JLF so sticking it directly to the arcade stick without the mounting plate gives the best result for the joystick as well if it is a viable option for your arcade stick.

If you want to try a joystick with a shorter throw, Seimitsu joysticks are definitely worth the money. LS-32 is the more solid option of the two in my opinion, but if you can live with the short engage distance of LS-40 without it giving you input errors, it's a good joystick as well and more customizable because it comes with a shaft cover.

Buying their medium or far throw joysticks however? I feel like there isn't much of a point when Sanwa (and Hori) do them better. Seimitsu does offer the best octagonal gates in their joysticks however so if you don't like square gates, you may want to try out their LS-56 or their newest model LS-62. For LS-56 you need to get the gate seperately while LS-62 comes installed with the octagonal gate by default.

Korean joysticks

Koreans had a different approach into developing joysticks for their arcades. Instead of using springs like everyone else they went with rubber grommets instead. With rubber grommets the resistance of the stick becomes gradually harder whereas when using spring the resistance is linear.

Why do this? Well, with that, the joystick returns faster to the center and you don't necessarily need to ride the gate for quick inputs but do smaller movements instead. It also eliminates the joystick wobble in the center all joysticks using springs have, so you always return to center instead of possibly few millimeters off it.

Korean sticks all generally use bat tops opposed to ball tops and they don't offer customizable gates like Japanese joysticks do but instead the gate is on the bottom of the body which restricts the joystick movement along with the circular collar. The collar itself breaks all the standards other joysticks follow since they require 35mm hole for the joystick to fit in, which restricts its use in arcade sticks because they usually have 25mm holes on them for joysticks.

Korean microswitches also differ from microswitches used in Japanese sticks since they are more "tactile" instead of being more linear feeling. The microswitches the joysticks usually come equipped with are Gersung's GSM-V1623A2s. Unlike for Japanese sticks, all of the Korean joysticks have their microswitches connected to their body with screws so it's easy to swap them if you don't like the default ones. A much more consumer friendly approach and which allows for further modding. To connect them into your arcade stick you need a .187 to 5-pin harness however.

The most known Korean joysticks are the "Fanta" sticks Taeyoung and Myoungshin and the most known Korean joystick manufacturer is Crown.

There are also some enthusiast joysticks on the market which, if it exists, you can most likely find from IST Mall's Lever section. These are mostly mods of a kind that for example take the body of Myoungshin and improve on the original by changing the parts and improving on the original design. Similiarly there is Golden Fanta mod kit for Fanta sticks which allows you to mod your Fanta sticks yourself with custom parts aiming to improve the feel of the original. Be prepared to spend some good money if you want to try these however, it's going to be expensive!

Taeyoung Fanta

Taeyoung Fanta
Taeyoung Fanta

Taeyoung is the original Fanta stick of which production has long since been halted but eTokki started reproducing them recently so now you can get one through their store if you missed out on it and never had a copy.

The medium tension rubber grommet of roughly 50 shore A rating inside it makes the stick feel extremely stiff to move which allows for precise movements. Compared to JLF it has both higher engage and throw distance to it with the engage distance being roughly the same as JLF's entire throw distance so, extremely huge. The bat top included on it has matte texture on it which feels good if you prefer matte finishes and doesn't really move around unless you apply force; Whether that's a good thing or not comes down to personal preferences. I prefer spinning handles personally.

Overall high quality stick but the stiffness mixed in with the far engage distance makes you work hard for it; On Taeyoung you basically abuse the shit out of the joystick.

Myoungshin Fanta

Myoungshin Fanta
Myoungshin Fanta

A Taeyoung copy which improves on few things on the original.

It has bigger actuator on it which makes the engage distance noticably smaller more to the level of JLF (but slighly longer) and it has slightly smaller throw distance to it as well. The bat top is replaced with glossy surface that spins freely and the joystick shares the same rubber grommet with Taeyoung, but the design of the joystick makes it feel slightly less stiff.

What it lacks compared to Taeyoung however is its general build quality and it comes with worse QC; My Myoungshin had unsmooth bottom in the dust washer which made it get stuck into the collar so I had to sandpaper it down to make it not hinder with the movement. Another common issue is bent microswitch feet and such but well, these are minor stuff.

The feel of the stick however? Absolutely top class.

The glossy surface on the bat top feels amazing which is why it's a huge shame there aren't other glossy bat tops on the market. The shape of it is also the best in any bat top I have tried and feels very comfortable to the hand. I could never get used to the big engage distance in Taeyoung but with Myoungshin's you feel right at home.

If you are new to Korean sticks, Myoungshin is the one I would recommend of the Fanta sticks.

Taeyoung is the stick you use when you have played with it for the past 20 years in Korean arcades.

Crown?

Crown 307FJ
Crown 307FJ

Crown is the most known joystick manufacturer in South Korea because they build joysticks that fit inside arcade sticks that use the Japanese layout which is basically 99% of the market. Their implementation of the joysticks are a bit different however since they use both the rubber grommet and a spring opposed to just rubber grommet as in Fanta sticks. Their rubber grommets are generally lighter than ones used in Fanta sticks as well and, well, can't really be called rubber grommets in the first place since they are made of silicone.

You can get a grommet with higher tension on it to make it closer to the feel of the Fanta sticks but for the models that fit inside Japanese layout arcade sticks, the lack of collar makes it ultimately feel different in the end. I tried out their 309MJ which has a minituare collar on it that goes inside the stick and it was alright but not really comparable to Fanta sticks because of the above mentioned reasons.

These are good as an introductory to Korean sticks however before you decide whether or not you want to destroy your arcade stick by drilling a 35mm hole into it to get into the big boy sticks.

American joysticks

Just no.

Don't get one even if it comes cheaper. These guys still haven't gotten any better in the past 30 years; They still distribute joysticks that have terrible parts on them and bad designs. Not worth anyone's time, not to talk of the fact that they don't even fit inside majority of the arcade sticks because of how unnecessary huge they are.

Glossary

.187 tabs  >  The feet in all arcade buttons and joysticks that you connect to your arcade stick PCB using .187 crimps that are connected to wires that directly go to your PCB pins. On your parts you usually have 2 tabs on them of which one is the data pin that tells the PCB if the switch is on ON or OFF state and the other connects it to the ground. Sometimes there are 3 tabs on microswitches since they can sometimes have "normally open" (NO) tab to them which means the switch is on ON state by default and and goes to OFF state when you activate it. For arcade sticks and usually for general purposes as well these are absolutely pointless so you can just ignore them.

5-pin connector  >  Usually on Japanese sticks you have the microswitches soldered into the joystick's internal PCB which connects the microswitch tabs into the 5-pin connectors. Basically all arcade sticks use 5-pin cables to connect the joystick cable into the PCB. As one would expect the 4 of the pins in 5-pin connectors are dedicated to the individual directions, up, right, down and left while the last is used to connect it to the ground. If your joystick doesn't have 5-pin connector on it you need to get a .187 to 5-pin harness to connect it into your arcade stick.

Actuator  >  The plastic parts that all joysticks use to activate the switches and which are directly connected to the shafts. The widest part of the actuator has a direct effect on the engage distance while the lower part of it determines the throw distance of the joystick. On the picture the first actuator has both closer engage and throw distance on it compared to the latter (which is the original actuator of JLF) because both parts are wider. You can see the effect it has on this particular picture.

Engage distance  >  The distance from the center of the joystick to the point in which the microswitch activates.

Microswitches  >  Small switches inside the arcade buttons and joysticks that tells the PCB whether they are on ON or OFF state. Comes in many different forms and directly affects the feel of the arcade parts. Some of them are more stiff while some are lighter to activate and some are linear feeling while some are more tactile.

Mounting plate  >  The plate used to mount the joystick into the arcade stick which always comes with the joystick. Arcade sticks use the japanese layout so all the japanese joysticks can be mounted into the arcade stick using their default plates. For Seimitsu joysticks their SS plates can't be mounted on arcade sticks however so you want to use their SE plate instead. Crown joysticks' plates follow the japanese layout as well but the ones with full collar, as well as other Korean joysticks, don't, so for these you need to get a special plate you can mount them with. Some arcade sticks also have holes in the steel plate which allows you to mount certain joysticks directly into it without the mounting plate.

Restrictor gates  >  Gates on the bottom of the joystick used to restrict joystick movement. These are what gives joystick their throw distance along with the actuator and can come in either Square, Circle or Octagonal shapes. Square is commonly used in Japanese joysticks while Korean sticks use circular gates. Octagonal is the mix of the two but less commonly found on joysticks. Additionally gates can be used to restrict the amount of directions the joystick can move to, which can be easily understood from the LS-40 gate; The upper part doesn't restrict your movement which is why it's called 8-way since you can hit all 8 directions. The second part only allows you to move to 2 directions; Either up and down or left and right (depending on which way you install it) which is why it's called 2-way. The bottom part can't hit two directions at the same time, so you can only go to 4 directions; up, right, down and left and thus it's called 4-way. Why these are used is because some arcade machines don't use all 8 directions so you can "take away" these directions from the joystick with a gate. The gates are only customizable on Japanese sticks.

Rubber grommet  >  Piece of rubber that is used inside the bodies of Korean joysticks to give them their resistance. They come in different tensions which are rated in Shore A. The bigger the Shore A rating, the less room the rubber has to move around freely and the harder the joystick movement becomes.

Spring  >  Just a normal spring that goes inside the actuators and on Crown sticks, inside the body on top of the grommet. Used to give the joystick its resistance; the harder the spring, the harder it becomes to move the joystick.

Throw distance  >  The distance from the center of the joystick to the point where the actuator hits the gate; the maximum range of the joystick.

Sources

The images of joysticks and their parts were taken from the following sources:
Arcade Shock   Paradise Arcade Shop   Focus Attack   eTokki    NSi Industries
We are not affiliated in any way with the mentioned companies. Please contact us at info@basedaisk.com for further information.

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Comments

Comment by doomsdaydevice |

Interesting... what else is moddable about an arcade stick? Or what makes sense? What doesn't? What would you recommened?

Reply by guy_jin

Arcade sticks are pretty simple input devices so there isn't that much you can do.

To improve the feel of the joysticks individually, generally the 3 ways you can mod them are the ones I mentioned in the introduction.
If you have JLF or Hayabusa you can get Kowal's actuator to decrease the joystick distances, which makes it a pretty good joystick for shmups without having to invest into another.
Getting a harder spring for Japanese sticks (or higher tension rubber grommet for Korean sticks) makes the joystick harder to move which is useful if you don't like the looseness of the stock joystick.
Changing the microswitches can also change the feel of the joystick but you can't do this for joysticks that have their microswitches soldered into their inner PCB which is majority of the japanese sticks, without soldering. For all Korean sticks this is something you can do however. In my Myoungshin I have LS-40 switches on my left and right directions and stock Gersung A2s on up and down which makes it return to back easier from downback making kbd in Tekken a breeze.
There are also some ghetto microswitch mods you can do if you open it up that affects the joystick distances without an actuator; If you cut out a piece of some thin, non-bendable material and put it into the place 1 of this picture it will directly affect both the engage and throw distance. If you put it in place 2 it will only affect throw distance. What this does basically is that it doesn't allow the microswitch to travel to its full distance. I don't necessarily recommend doing this though.
For customizing the looks you can get a different top and a shaft- and dust cover set in different colors. The 2 tops you can choose from are ball tops and bat tops. Ball tops in general feel more "agile" than bat tops and are thus more popular but which one one likes comes down to personal preference. Majority of the japanese sticks use the same dimensions for screwing the tops in but the shafts unfortunately aren't of the same thickness so you need to be sure the shaft- and dust covers fit in. For Korean sticks the tops are directly stuck to the handle and are unremovable so for these sticks you are stuck with the default option. For Crown sticks some websites sell a conversion shaft that allows you to switch between the tops easily.
Additionally you can get an octagonal gate to some japanese joysticks that changes the movement from square to octagonal if you don't like it square. Many people including me don't like the octagonal gates however, especially on JLF.
For Fanta joysticks there is Golden Fanta mod kit with different parts included which you can use to modify the joystick into your own preferences and for JLF this caught my eye recently which is very interesting. Hopefully it makes it into European sellers eventually.

For buttons there isn't much you can do to change their feel so if you don't like your buttons you may want to try out others. I tried to open a button microswitch since I had a faulty button once, to see if I could fix it myself, but these are so incredibly tight and complex to open that I couldn't do it. Button microswitches use springs as well however so if you manage to get them open you can bend the springs to make them harder to press I suppose.
When getting buttons generally you want snap-in buttons; These have tabs in the sides that keeps them locked in place. The other type, screw-in buttons have rings on them that you screw to the buttons to keep them in place. These work as well but some arcade sticks may have problem with them fitting in because of the rings being too big so beware of that.

Outside of buttons and joysticks, you can get a clear plexi for your arcade stick that allows you to put artwork below it, if you want to make it feel more personalized. Some websites also offer different layouts to their plexis that gives you an ability to convert your arcade stick from 8 buttons to 6 buttons for example.
For more advanced modding you can get a PCB to replace the one in your arcade stick. There are some really impressive low input delay PCBs out there of which some also have multi system support which means they work on multiple consoles by simply plugging the device in. Brook's PCBs are some of the best in the market.
If you don't want to go as far as changing the PCB, you can also use a converter that for example makes PS3 stick work on PS4 but this generally adds an extra frame of input delay. Not that big of a deal though.

That's all I can think of.

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