The Controller Shop revisited: Custom pads for a new generation

Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners, look no further for custom game controllers. After three months of testing, The Controller Shop remains our pick for the best in personalized video game controllers.

Jeff Bakalar
Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
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Before I received custom controllers for Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 from The Controller Shop a few years ago, I had no idea custom pads were even a thing.

I quickly learned that personalized controllers are a major component to self expression in competitive gaming, not to mention a major business.

Two years ago, I interviewed the founder of The Controller Shop, Jordan McKinney, to find that customers were paying up to $400 for a custom controller from his elite brand based right outside of Chicago.

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I asked Jordan if his company was up to the task of customizing the incoming Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One controllers. If the pair I recently received is any indication, the answer is a resounding "yes."

Since I ran my original story in 2013 I've had an onslaught of custom controller houses send me their wares for testing. But after three months, I find myself coming back to Jordan's controllers.

The difference: his attention to detail. The Controller Shop, or TCS for short, ensures none of the controller's buttons have been comprised by paint, vinyl wrap or the unscrewing (and re-screwing) of plastic parts. Sure, anyone can take a screwdriver and disassemble an Xbox One pad and put it back together, but I've found TCS takes the extra time to finesse and refine the job so that the response from buttons and triggers mirror the same experience you get from a retail unit.

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Some of the other brands I've used have sticky face buttons or a trigger that now squeaks after an imperfect reconstruction. Even worse, I've had to deal with controllers that stink of chemicals from a glossy coating, to the point where it leaves a trail of ickiness on my fingers from playing.

With the introduction of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers available through the site, TCS has introduced new features for sale as well. Players can now add extra LEDs to controllers, utilize slick faded and worn cosmetic details, as well as new vinyl wraps and textures. In fact, TCS added dozens of new customization options to their online design lab since I received my two pads.

I've really come to rely heavily on the optional rubberized coating TCS applies to the back of a controller. It helps me grip the controller without losing mobility and it also ensures the controller won't slip off my lap if I need to grab my phone or adjust the volume.

All of this eye-candy customization isn't cheap. The average controller redux will set you back anywhere from $90 to $130 depending on the level of complexity, and it only goes up from there.

That's roughly twice what a retail controller would cost, but for the player who demands self expression, this is absolutely the gift for them. Plus, odds are it'll be the only controller he or she needs for an entire console generation.