Pinball Machine Restorations

Functions test: 

Priority #1. It would be a waste of time to clean and polish a game that will not work properly. So we run the game through all of it's diagnostic tests. It is important to make notes of and repair any items that don't work, like the flippers, pop bumpers, switches and feature lamps. Any solenoids that aren't working smoothly will get rebuilt. Any flippers not operating properly will be re-built also. This of course is an over-oversimplification of what we actually do to repair and rebuild a pinball machine. You simply would not believe the strange things that we find going on under the playfield, from hacked wiring harnesses to completely missing assemblies. My personal favorite is the prior game technician who repaired all of the blown fuses by wrapping them and the fuse block with tin foil. That game really had a strange smell to it when we got there.

Power Cord Inspection: 

The power cord must be inspected. The power cord is the easiest part of a machine to be abused. They get kicked, pulled and ripped from the outlets. Many of the games are so old that the plastic coating on the wires has started to dry rot leaving the electrical wires dangerously exposed.  Many operators are so lazy that they will just rip the ground pin off of the plug to make it fit into one of the old style non-grounded outlets. This is a safety problem that needs to be immediately rectified.

Fuse Inspection: 

We inspect all of the fuses in the game to ensure that they are the proper type and value. Fuses are used in a pinball machine for a very important purpose. They are designed to prevent certain parts of the machine from over heating and causing damage to those parts. More importantly they keep these parts from overheating enough to cause a fire which can damage your home and harm your family. Many times, a previous owner will replace a fuse that keeps blowing with a fuse that is WAY overrated for that circuit, like putting a 30 amp fuse in a 1/4 amp circuit. If a properly rated fuse keeps blowing, there is something wrong with the games wiring, circuit boards or power supply. Even worse, sometimes a person will wrap the blown fuse with tin foil or jam a screw, nail or paperclip into the fuse holder. If there is a problem that causes the properly sized fuse to blow then that broblem must be fixed or the game can go up in flames!

Running the solenoid test on Road Show
Testing displays on Gorgar. These look great!
The previous owner  fixed this with tape. How long do you think that will last?
This driver board has several
 fried transistors.
The ground pin is missing here.
A new power cord will fix this!
Bally "Power House" fuse block.
A Bally "
Escape From the Lost World" fuse block. Newer games have DOZENS of fuses to be checked!

Safety Ground Inspection:

We will inspect all of the cabinet grounding straps. There are lots of metal pieces on the outside of the game like the coin door, side rails, legs, trim pieces, etc. All of these parts are required to be tied to a common ground to prevent the player from getting shocked while playing should there happen to be a short-circuit in the machine. If the ground straps are in place and properly connected, the electricity will flow through the ground pin on the game plug (if it wasn't cut off as it was in the previous example!) instead of through the pinball player. Many of the really old pinball machines did not have such safety devices just like really old houses don't have grounded outlets. 

Ground straps in the head of an old Williams game.

Battery Check: 

We will inspect for battery damage and install a new battery or batteries. All games have batteries of some sort to hold high scores and game settings while the game is turned off. These batteries have caused the death of many games due to the fact that most, if not all batteries eventually leak caustic substances when not changed regularly. This leakage can cause major damage to a games circuit boards, connectors and wiring harness. Battery corrosion is like rust in an old car. It will spread and spread and spread until it consumes the whole machine. Some games have standard "AA" batteries, some use ni-cad or lithium based batteries. "AA" batteries are user-serviceable. Everyone knows how to change a battery. Ni-cad and lithium batteries are not so user friendly because you need to use a soldering iron to take them off the computer board and replace them. There is a new product out now called  "NVRAM" made by "Anypin". The AnyPin NVRAM Battery Eliminator completely eliminates the need for batteries in your pinball machine. It replaces the current CPU RAM with an anyPin NVRAM chip and you will never worry about changing or leaking batteries again. It works exactly like the original RAM but does not require batteries to keep settings; EVER. This product works on almost all pinball machines, so we will replace the batteries with this new product.

It is common for the batteries to leak and cause severe damage to the computer board. 
"Rotten Dog" makes replacement boards for many of the old games.
This board still has healthy batteries, but they should be removed just as a precaution.

Electronics Inspection: 

We examine all of the circuit boards and all of the connectors in the game. When the circuit boards heat up they can char or melt the plastic connectors. Overtime this can cause intermittent problems due to bad connections  on the circuit boards. We will re-solder all of the connector pins as a precaution. In cases of games with battery damage, we will re-pin all of the affected connectors. We will also re-build any connectors that have become burned or tarnished. Many of the early Gottlieb games like Haunted House or Volcano have very little wrong with them except that over time the overheating of the connectors has caused it to stop working or only work intermittently.

A burned connector on an old Williams game.
Re-pinning corrosion-damaged connectors on a "Haunted House".
Replacing burned up connector on a lamp driver board.

External Cleaning: 

Now it's time to clean all external surfaces of the game. Many of these games are 30 to 50 years old or even older. Some of them have sat in damp and dusty warehouses, barns, garages, or basements for many years. Many of the cabinets are discolored due to many years of cigarette smoke getting blown all over them while the game was in a bar or restaurant earning money "on location". This kind of dirt and grime doesn't do the game any good. It just helps to deteriorate the game We do our best to get the games as clean as humanly possible!

This game sat out in a barn for 14 years. 
These games were found in an out building with critters crawling inside them.

Side Rail Clean Up. 

Lets look at the side rails. The game will take on a much more crisp and clean look if we take a little time and effort to clean and polish the side rails. The side rails are the metal moldings that hold the playfield glass in place. We see many of these that are rusted and banged up from hard use and the many times most of these machines have been moved. They get rusted and discolored over the years. They also often get dented and dinged from hard wse. We will clean, fix and repair these side rails. many times the damage is so severe that we will just go ahead and replace them.

Nice clean side rails can realy make a machine shine!
Replacing the dented side rails is also an option.

Leg clean up:

Most times the legs are in worse condition than the side rails, so they will get a good cleaning, sanding and buffing to remove the dirt and rust build up. Most games have at least some level of rust on the legs. We will polish, sand and buff the original game legs to get them shiny and sparkling again. In some cases, it may be necessary to install brand new legs. We also install new leg bolts and levelers on the legs. New levelers are used to make it easier to level the game.

Would you want these legs on a game in your home?
A Little elbow grease and they shine up real nice!

Cabinet Repair:

The pinballs cabinet is what takes most of the abuse and therefore is often the most damaged part. We will fix any part of the cabinet that is damaged damage and fix or repaint and touch-up part of the cabinet that needs it. There is however a limit to what can be done with severely damaged cabinets. We can only do so much in the cases of water damage or severely mishandled games, but we will do our very best to make the game look presentable. Many cabinets can be re-painted, and for newer games the cabinet artwork decals can be replaced when available.

Sometimes we really need to get aggressive to repair the side art!
We will be replacing the side art decal on this cabnet!
Before & after shots of a White Water cabinet repair.
Someone must have taken a Hammer to this Cabinet. We can fix it!

Button Cleansing:

The buttons are where everyone puts their dirty fingers. So, the buttons can be one of the filthiest parts on a game. We will clean and sterilize or replace all of the cabinet buttons. From the start button to the coin rejecters to the flippers. Unfortunately most people do not go and wash their hands before playing a game of pinball. For example: look at the flipper buttons pictured below. These are all too often examples of the buttons that we find. We will simply replace these with clean new buttons.

Do you really want to be using rhese flipper buttons?

Coin Door Repair: 

With the abuse that the coin doors take most of them will need some sort of repair.We will repair or rebuild the front coin door. The coin door of a game can often take much abuse over the years. From getting kicked or hit to having beverages spilled on it to being broken apart by vandals. We will disassemble the door and clean it. If it's a stainless steel door, we will sand and buff out any rust spots and polish it until it shines. For painted doors, we will generally rebuild and repaint the door. In real bad cases, the entire door may need to be replaced. A new lock and coin door lamps will make it look almost new.

This is an old Bally coin door BEFORE it was refurbished.
Now this refurbished Bally coin door looks like new!
Rusty Gottlieb coin door badly in need of shining.
Sometimes you just have to replace the part with a new one.

Internal Cleansing: 

Many people forget about the inside of a pinball machine. We think that the entire machine needs to be cleaned. Not just the parts you can see. We will clean out the inside of the head and the lower cabinet. The insides of games are always filled with dust, dirt and spider webs. The lower cabinet is often used as a trash bin when the game is on location because it is a convenient place to throw bad light bulbs, blown fuses and broken rubber pieces. These should all be cleaned out and thrown away.

We had to vacume this game three times to get all the cat hair out.
This is how it looks when we are finished cleaning out the cabnet!

Cleaning the Playfield Glass: 

If you cant see the playfield, how can you play the game? We scrub down the playfield glass front and back and scrape off any dirt or grime that is stuck to it. Some playfield glasses are scratched up to the point that cleaning wont help. These playfield glasses we will replace with new ones. We also clean out the glass channels. These need to be free from grit and dirt because this is where the playfield glass slides in to keep it on the game. If it becomes too dirty the glass will be most difficult to remove.

This old playfield glass has not been cleaned in years!
The glass channels in this game were so grimy that they had to be replaced.

Lockdown Bar: 

The lockdown bar holds the playfield glass in place and keeps dirt and liquid from getting on the playfield. We buff and polish the metal to a crisp clean shine. We also install a new beverage seal since most of them are dirty and sticky from having beverages spilled on them for years. If the bar is damaged too much we will put a whole new lockdown bar on.

This old Gottlieb lockdown bar got rusty over time.
The beverage seal on this game is still stuck to the glass!
A new beverage seal on a Williams 1980's era lockdown bar.

Ball Shooter Repair: 

The ball shooter assembly almost always needs to be rebuilt. We will put a new set of springs rubber tip and nylon sleeve on it. The outside spring is always smashed and rusty and the inside spring is not so spring-ee. After a shooter tune-up, it'll work as smooth as silk. It's only right!

This shooter assembly is worn out!
There are always new parts to fix it!

Backglass Restoration: 

We clean and inspect the painted backglass or translite. A clean backglass will allow the best transfer of light and make the game look bright and colorful. If your game has a translite which is a plastic sheet with the artwork sandwiched against a piece of clear glass, we will separate the artwork from the glass and clean both pieces front and back. If your game has a painted glass, we take great care in cleaning the front and back sides of the glass. In some cases the back side cannot and should not be cleaned due to flaking paint issues. We don't want to make it any worse than it already is. If a painted glass has flaking, lifting or peeling problems, we will spray a clear coating on the back of the glass. We can also do backglass or translite touch-ups if you would like. All backglass channels and lift trim are also cleaned and polished.

Older painted back glasses were known for their scratches & Flaking.
The back side of this glass needs clear-coated to keep the flaking from getting worse.
This back glass has been clear-coated and is ready for touch-up.
Translites were used in modern games instead of a painted glass.

Light Board Lamp-Up:

We clean the front and back sides of the light board and replace any lamps that are burned out or discolored. The light board is the board that holds all of the lamps that shine through the backglass and is also where the game displays are usually mounted. A clean and bright white lamp board will provide the best transference of light through the backglass.

This backbox and score displays cleaned up nicely!
We even put all new light bulbs in the backbox to make it brighter.

Score Display Inspection: 

We clean and inspect the game displays. Properly functioning displays are a very important part of a pinball machine as it's the only way the game can convey information to the player. If it's a mechanical game, we clean the score reels and ensure proper operation. For older electronic games, we make sure that all digits and segments are working and bright in the numeric or alpha-numeric glasses. For newer electronic games, we make sure that all columns and rows are working and bright on the large dot-matrix display glass. Burned out or non-functional display glass will be repaired or replaced.

This old williams game has the top segments missing on the upper numeric displays.
Here several dots are missing on the dot-matrix display.

Here's To Your Playfield.  Bottoms Up! 

Next, we start on the playfield by cleaning the part you never see, the bottom. Why clean the bottom, you ask? Good question, and I'll tell you why! On newer games, there are any number of tunnels, scoops or under-playfield passages that the ball will traverse. These parts of the game get infested with the blackest of black dirt because almost no one ever cleans them! If you don't clean these areas of the game, the ball will simply pick up the dirt and carry it right back onto the cleaned upper playfield, making it dirty within a few games.

The other important thing to clean on the bottom side of all pinball playfields is the plastic inserts that the lamps shine through. This is another area that is often neglected by others. Clean lamp inserts really make the lights pop out from the top of the playfield. We also clean or replace all of the feature lamps under the playfield.

The ball tunnels need to be completely removed to effectively clean the dirt out.
Cleaning the years of dirt out of the inside of these lamp inserts with a Q-tip!
Pinball Machine ramps and tunnels get filthy!
A nice clean ramp makes all the difference in game play.

Part Replacement: 

We will inspect the upper playfield for any broken or missing parts. Certain parts of a pinball playfield are commonly broken. Drop targets, stationary targets, bumper caps, lane guides, light shields, ramps and other plastic parts can really take a beating from the ball. Most common parts are still manufactured. Some game-specific parts like light shields with artwork on them can be difficult or impossible to find. We will replace any broken part on the playfield that is able to be replaced. If a suitable replacement isn't available, we will sometimes fabricate custom parts. There's nothing uglier than a playfield with a bunch of smashed, broken and mismatched parts.

A dirty game missing a drop target and has the wrong pop bumper caps.
Can you believe that this is the same game?
Find the missing lane guide.

Playfield Teardown: 

Now, we will disassemble the entire upper playfield to prepare for cleaning. The only way to properly clean a playfield is to take it apart. We remove all of the plastics, ramps, old rubber, posts, bumpers, light bulbs, aprons, etc. As you can imagine, this is a very time consuming task. We must keep track of everything that is removed and where it was removed from for hundreds of parts. On modern multi-level games, the tear down, cleaning and re-assembly of the playfield alone can take a full day or more.

Starting a playfield teardown on Firepower.
Lots of pieces to remove, but we can handle it!
This game had a ton of parts on it. 
It almost looks brand new now!
But they all must come off!

Playfield Touch-Ups: 

We will perform any necessary playfield touch-ups. Any spots of missing or chipped paint will be color-matched and touched up. Larger areas of wear that occur in common spots like at ball drops or in front of sling shots will get a protective mylar patch installed. There is a limit to how much touch-up can or should be done to a playfield. If the paint is in extremely poor condition or has unusually large sections of artwork missing, it would be best to try to find a replacement playfield.

Some Small Scratches on the playfield can be touched up.
Now that looks much better!
This playfield is NOT a candidate for touch-ups!
Many older games have worn playfields.

Playfield Shimmy-Sham: 

We will clean and wax the playfield. We use the Novus line of plastic polishes to clean the playfield and playfield parts. It is expensive, but it is an industry standard as the best and safest thing to use on pinball machines. After cleaning every square inch of the playfield, we will apply a generous coat of automotive carnauba paste wax. After plenty of buffing, that playfield will shine like new and play like new!

This is how a playfield should be cleaned!
This game will play like a new game now!

Playfield Re-Assembly: 

We will clean all of the playfield parts and reassemble the playfield. Everything that goes back onto the game will get cleaned and polished. All of the light shields, plastic posts, metal posts, lane guides, bumper caps, flipper bats, ramps and everything else will get polished. New upper general illumination lamps and fresh rubber will also be installed at this time. It's starting to look like something now!

Nice new clean parts for re-assembly on the playfield.
Cleaned-up, waxed, re-assembled & ready for play.

Balls, Balls, Balls: 

We will install new highly polished premium mirror-finish pinballs. New balls in a game look really fantastic and play super fast, but there is a more practical reason to replace your old balls. Used pinballs develop tiny scratches and pit marks over time. These imperfections in the ball will act like a mini-sanding disc on your playfield and cause premature playfield wear. If you play your games a lot, you should replace the ball(s) every year. It's an inexpensive way to keep your game looking and playing at it's best!

Which ball do you want in YOUR game?

Score Card Reproduction: 

We will reproduce and install new score and instruction cards with covers. The instruction cards provide the player with a bit of insight on how to play the game and what is required to win. Old instruction cards are generally dirty or yellowed and the clear plastic covers are often missing. We often have to digitally scan your old card in and electronically edit out any of the dirt and flaws, but it's worth the time.  New score and instruction cards are a nice finishing touch on a fully restored game.

Boy it sure looks nice with the new cards int instead of those old onea!

Game Configuration: 

We will reset the game audits and high scores and then configure the game software. After the game is restored, it's nice to be able to keep track of how much it gets played and resetting the audit log is a good way to do this. We will also reset the high score table. Who wants to know someone else's high score? You want to know YOUR high score! Newer games also have many options for configuring the rules of game play. We will get the game set back to the factory defaults and can show you how to make any changes that you want. We can also set the game for free play or make it so that coins are required to play.

The diagnostic buttons on a newer Bally game.
Running the game thru it's diagnostic tests.

Play Testing:

The final step. We will play test the game numerous times and adjust any bumpers, slingshots or targets for optimal performance. Then we'll play the game some more just because it's fun. This is the part we like best!

Now this really is the fun part!!!
This board has an AnyPin NVRAM chip installed to replace the battery. No more battery acid damage!

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