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A relatively common problem on older equipment, is the failure of the LCD backlight (or EL-panel). Often accompanied with a very high-frequency whine emanating from the LCD area of the gear in question, it's time to consider an EL panel and inverter replacement.

LCD Backlight Replacement at Plasma Music

Here's a Roland GC-8 editor / controller for the massive Roland R-880 reverb (circa 1988). Without the controller, the R-880 which really is an awesome machine, is kind of useless as there's little out there to program it via MIDI.

Roland GC-8 LCD Backilight Repalcement
Roland GC-8 with original LCD backlight (pink) and new LCD backlight.

Luckily and thanks to a company called backlight4you, LCD backlight replacement is now worth looking into. A variety of EL-panels that are suitable for a whole bunch of older gear, is available at the company's website which is also full of other useful and related information. Their backlights are reasonably priced and arrive from Germany pretty quickly and in very stiff cardboard packaging.

After fitting the replacement EL-panel, I powered up the unit to check. Wow! It looks great and on this occasion I got lucky and that bloody annoying whine has gone!

Roland GC-8 with fully working LCD backlight

IMPORTANT: As a backlight ages, its electrical characteristics change, These changes put a strain on a small circuit called an inverter which converts dc within the unit to high-frequency ac which is required to drive the EL-panel. As parts of this circuit age, it starts to whine. In many cases, replacing the backlight will fix that problem but... not always. : (

If after swapping out your backlight, your unit is still whining, then backlight4you may still be able to help. Take a closer look at their website and you'll find a section on inverters. Designed to run from common voltages and power many of the EL panels that are sold on the website, these replacements are very reasonably priced.

Replacement inverters might not be pin-for-pin compatible, especially with very old equipment but with a little ingenuity, you might be able squeeze one in somewhere.

Due to the low cost of replacement inverters, I would personally recommend swapping out the inverter if possible, when fitting a new EL-panel.

Need help with a hard-to-read LCD? Drop me a line.

UPDATE - 20th May 2020

Several days after replacing the EL backlight panel in this Roland GC-8, the high-pitch whine started again. I decided to go back to backlight4you and check out the inverters that are advertised on the company's website.

Due to the limited space inside the GC-8, I needed something small and indeed the backlight4you inverters do look as small as you can get them.

EL inverter scaled next to my favourite (KISS) coffee mug
EL inverter from backlight4u scaled against my favourite coffee mug!

While waiting for the inverter to arrive, I removed the original transformer from the GC-8 inverter circuit. This is the component that actually generates the whine.

When the inverter did turn up, it was quite obvious that it wouldn't fit straight on to the GC-8's PCB. I expected as much but I'm stating this for clarity to others. I ended up placing the inverter, underneath the main PCB towards the sockets at the back of the GC-8. Phew! It just fitted. The slanted profile of the unit meant that it wouldn't fit towards the front where there's a bit more room. Typical!!!

Connecting the 3-terminal device was straight-forward and since my GC-8 isn't going on an interplanetary mission in the near future, securing it just needed a little double-sided tape and hot glue.

It's important to note that this little black epoxy resin box, is a complete inverter and NOT just the transformer.

Time to power up and test. DEAD quiet! Wow, this is definitely worth doing.

I actually have two Roland R-880s and so, two GC-8s. My EL panel and inverter replacement on one of my units, meant that well, I just had to do the other one, too! 🙂