Pinball Repair

A few weeks ago, I was happily in the studio playing Mata Hari, when all of a sudden, the game made a weird blink and then went dead.  The player 3 score unit had been acting up for a while, and only half of the general illumination (GI) lights were working. I had let those items go – figuring I’d get to it sooner or later. Now, it would be sooner…

As I’ve said earlier in this blog, Mata Hari has seen better days.  One of the key culprits is its main wiring harness – it’s been hacked.  Since Mata Hari is a solid state game, the wiring in the game ends in connectors which make-up a “plug-like” fixture.  The wires have the female connectors, while the corresponding male plugs are on the circuit boards themselves.  In the case of Mata Hari, someone in this game’s past must have had a problem with some of the plugs, and instead of repairing the connectors inside of the plugs, they cut the connectors off and soldered the wires directly onto the male plugs on the power supply board.  Another plug was split in two, but still connected, and a third plug had been replaced by one that wasn’t the right size. The end result is, all of these things make it difficult for the game to do what it needs to do, and also makes repairing the game very difficult.

I don’t know all of the history of this game.  It’s safe to assume from looking at it that it was used on location at one time or another.  When most of these games were on location, operators would do whatever they needed to do to keep the games running.  Later, older games would be scavenged for parts to keep newer games running.  Some older games hit the dumpster with very few usable parts left on them.  Mata Hari escaped that fate by being purchased from the operator by someone looking for a pinball machine.  From there, who knows what happened to it, until it landed at my father-in-law’s house.  He gave it to my wife and I a few years ago, and now it’s in need of some more help.

Finding replacement wiring harnesses for these games can be difficult.  Bally did a great job of building around a standardized harness and circuit boards, so as long as you have similar vintage games, the parts are interchangable.  I do not have a second Mata Hari, but I do have three copies of Bally’s Eight Ball. 

One of my Eight Ball games is usable, but the other two are not.  I resist the urge to canninalize games for parts, because once that begins on a game, restoring that “stripped” game becomes much harder and more time consuming. Typically, when I look into my collection to determine which game to do next, the games in the worst shape go to the end of the line – and I don’t want to add to my list of “parts games”…

On the other hand, I want to keep Mata Hari running. I’m hoping to open the studio soon for tournaments, and while some of my games are like Mata Hari – good playing games that have not yet been restored – if they all are playing well, they can be used in a tournament.

Quietly swearing that I will rebuild the harness from Mata Hari for the “donor game”, I carefully removed the wiring harness from one of the non-working Eight Ball heads. Then, I carefully removed the wiring harness from Mata Hari. The power supply board on Mata Hari was pretty messed up. I’d need to remove the board from the game to repair it, so to speed up the process, I again turned to Eight Ball and removed the power supply and transformer for Mata Hari. The final piece to the puzzle here will be one connector from a harness that goes down to the body of the game.

With all of the “borrowed” parts from Eight Ball now carefully installed in Mata Hari, the trick now is testing out the transformer and the rectifier board before applying power to the rest of the game. Circuit boards run on both low and high voltages. Accidentally applying too little voltage to a section of the circuit board means that the game won’t work. Too much voltage in the wrong part of the board can be catastrophic!

With all of the harnesses replaced/repaired, now it’s time to test my work! I removed all of the plugs from the Rectifier board except the one for the line voltage. I turned on the power and used my multimeter to scan for voltages at the five test points. After confirming that all of the correct voltages were present, I shut the game off and connected up the remaining two plugs to the Rectifier board. Once everything was seated properly, I turned on the power and watched the game light up. The MPU went through its self-test and then booted up. SUCCESS!!!

I played a few quick games to confirm that all of the features were working properly – which they were. The only issue I have now is the player three score display. It still seems to be having a problem – but the problem has changed! The display is no longer strobing (flickering periodically), it’s “ghosting” (displaying duplicate numbers in the next position to the left, but at 1/3 normal intensity).

Not having had the time to deal with that last night, my plan will be to swap the display for player 3 with another one on the game. If the problem stays with the display, then the display has a problem. If the problem stays with player 3 after the swap, then the problem could be either the wiring harness, or the MPU. I’ll let you know how that goes later…


I have been working on several non-pinball projects lately.  I miss working on my games!

Anyway, my wife and I share an art studio in an old factory building.  She does art, and I do pinball machine restoration there.  Last Saturday night, the building had an art show upstairs.  My wife entered some of her work in the show, so we went to the opening.  I can appreciate art to a point, but then it’s just milling around speaking to artists (explaining that I’m not one – at least in the traditional sense) and finally getting tired of hanging with these people I can’t really relate to.

Thankfully, my wife completely understands my difficulties in those situations and asked me if I wanted to leave and go play pinball (this is how I know she’s a keeper!).

I headed down to the studio with my son, got the games fired up and started playing.  We played Space Mission for a bit.  Space Mission is a game I got from a guy a while ago.  It’s a good “player” game, meaning it plays nice, but it needs a lot of restoration work. 

I love the way the game looks, especially the backglass, which has a depiction of the Apollo/Soyuz space mission from 1975. The backglass image looks almost identical to the way the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum depicts them!

Anyway, Space Mission is a fun, fast EM pinball machine, but my example lacks some of the “punch” the game is supposed to have. I purchased the game about a year ago, and because of its overall condition, I’ve only picked away at it here and there. When I first purchased the game, many of the parts on the game barely qualified as serviceable! The flippers were sloppy and sluggish, the ball shooters next to the flippers could barely shoot the ball out of the hole, and the pop bumpers “popped”, but not enough to move the ball anywhere.

A while ago, I gave Space Mission some attention. I gave it a flipper rebuild kit, and new flipper coils. I also replaced the pop bumper coils and the shooter coils. The work netted me awesome flippers, decent pop bumpers, but the shooters were only marginally better. After playing Space Mission on Saturday, I decided that I really wanted to see what happened with the shooters working properly, so, on Sunday, I had a couple of hours, and I went to work on Space Mission.

Space Mission has two fairly unique items on it: a “Swinging Target”, and “Ball Shooters” near the flippers. The swinging target is exactly what it sounds like, a stand-up target that swings back and forth. Behind the target is a rubber ring. Hitting the target scores between 1000 and 5000 points, while missing the target and hitting the rubber has the ball being shot back down between the flippers!

The ball shooters replaced the more traditional slingshots above the flippers. Instead of the ball being kicked around by the slingshots, Space Mission has stationary rubber rings above, which lead into a small opening under the plastic. The ball hits a switch in the hole which pulls in the shooter relay, runs the score motor to count up 50 or 500 points (when lit) and then fires the shooter coil. The shooter shoots the ball at the swinging target assembly, but does not change its aim – so you may hit the target, and you may hit rubber!

I pulled the shooter assemblies apart. The kicker for the shooter looks almost identical to the slingshot mechanism. The kickers were both missing their heads – and the linkages are kind of tight. I walked over to my Williams Darling and checked the shooters in there – they were complete! Darling has a stuck relay somewhere, and needs a lot of mechanical work. I decided to “borrow” the shooters from Darling for Space Mission.

Back at Space Mission, I pulled the broken assemblies off and tossed them in the bottom of Darling. I cleaned and lubed the new assemblies and installed them in Space Mission. I also decided to make an alteration to the coils. The book called for an G22-500 coil, and the replacement coil I was sent was an A22-550 coil. Back in the day, Williams coils came with a metal sleeve which could not be moved from one end to the other. The G coil was an upside-down A coil. Today, coils are built with a removable nylon sleeve, so to make a G coil, you put the nylon sleeve in backwards. The 22 is the gage of wire, and the 550 is the number of turns of wire around the sleeve. The wire in a coil has a very thin insulation, and the coiled wire when energized with electricity makes a powerful magnetic field, which is used on a pinball machine to pull a metal “plunger” into the coil sleeve. A coil with 550 turns of wire has a higher resistance than a coil with only 500 turns, and therefore doesn’t pull as hard. By unwinding 50 turns of wire, I was able to give the coil a little more “punch”.

I installed the coils back into the game and tested it. The shooters with full-sized heads, and the more powerful coils coupled to make the ball really get shot out of the shooter hole! Now, the ball gets shot at the swinging target assembly and caroms wildly around the playfield – depending on what part of the assembly it hits. Now that’s more like it!

At about the time I finished my work, I noticed that I had an appointment coming up, so without much testing, I buttoned Space Mission up and headed off. On Wednesday, I’ll be back at the studio with a little more time to test it out!

The first time I saw Ice Fever, was in the fall of 1986.  I was in college, spending way more time playing pinball than studying…

The small game room in the basement of the Ell building at Northeastern University had two pins, Ice Fever and a Williams Comet.  Comet was definitely the game of choice, because it was faster playing and a much more exciting game.  Ice Fever sat unused except for the occasional person who wanted to play pinball and wasn’t going to wait for us to finish our game of Comet.

In 1986, Gottlieb’s Ice Fever was a painfully slow playing game.  The theme was Ice Hockey, and unlike Bally’s Power Play which featured Bobby Orr, Ice Fever had cartoonish imaginary hockey players which seemed more interested in being thugs than playing the game.  The graphics harkened back to some of the 1970s games like Big Hit, where the people were more like caricatures.  I really hated the game as a kid.  It had several relatively nice shots but the flippers always seemed unable to hurl the ball at them with enough oomph.

Ice Fever was eventually replaced by a Gottlieb Raven pinball machine, another one which was not on my hit parade, and eventually dropped out of my consciousness…until I got a phone call…

I received a call from a gentleman who wanted to see if his pinball machine could be repaired.  He said it was a hockey-themed pinball machine and the score boards weren’t working.  Could I fix it?

Yeah, fixing it wouldn’t be too much trouble, but where it was a solid state game, getting replacement parts might be costly.  I asked him the title of the game, and after listening over the phone as he descended the stairs into his basement, he announced “Ice Fever”.  I knew I’d heard that name before.

“Maybe if it couldn’t be fixed cheaply, maybe you’d buy it from me?” he asked. I tapped IPDB.ORG into my laptop, and searched the game – and all of the memories flooded back! I didn’t want to own this game. But, work is work, and regardless of what I personally personally thought of the game, I had a customer, and I am a professional. I politely replied, “I don’t think I’m interested in buying any new games at this point, but I’d be happy to take a look at it for you.” We agreed to meet at his house.

Getting to his house, I looked at the game. The playfield was filthy, some of the playfield rubbers had fallen onto the playfield and melted and the score displays were blank. I hoped the displays were merely a bad fuse, but that was not the problem. I explained what I do, and what I charge. I put the game on the cart, and brought it into my van for the short ride back to my house.

Most of my readers know, I don’t typically work on solid state pinball machines. Not that I can’t work on one, it’s just not what I’m used to. I was hoping to walk into his basement and find a bad fuse or something, leaving me to just clean up the playfield and be on my way, but I wasn’t that lucky. We talked for a few minutes and agreed that I’d take the game back to my house to repair it. I loaded it up on the hand-truck, and got it into my van. I set it up and started researching the game.

Gottlieb solid state games are very different than Bally and Williams solid state games of that era. Gottlieb still uses relays for some of the circuits – which seems odd. Also, their grounding system (reliant solely on wiring) sucks. One bad connector somewhere, and your ground circuit is bad, and boards can potentially fry (an expensive problem). Bally and Williams had the boards mounted on metal grounding plates, which makes it almost impossible for the ground circuit to fail. Gottlieb also grossly under built most of it’s equipment. Several of the parts on the boards can get very hot and burn out. People who preserve solid state games know which parts need to be upgraded and what to upgrade them to.

I went through the game with my multi-meter and found that there was no voltage going to the score displays – a good thing! I also found that I had voltage getting to the power supply board, and with the help of my father-in-law, we isolated where the problem was – there were burned out parts on the board. I suppose I could have repaired the board, but while the new parts would be new, the older ones would still be 30+ years old, and something else would likely die soon on that board, so I bought a replacement board. The new boards are better, far more reliable, more robust, and under warranty! Seemed like a no-brainer to me.

After ordering the parts, I started working on the playfield. I removed all of the items from it and found almost all of the plastic playfield posts were on the verge of crumbling!

I was given a limit of $300 in parts and labor – mostly because the owner of the game didn’t want to get too deep into it financially. This made it tough for me, because I’m a perfectionist! I went through the game and replaced all of the fuses. Then I replaced the electrical plug with a three-prong plug, so the ground circuit could work. Then I had to work on the service door inside the head of the game.

The service door sits behind the backglass. The score displays are mounted on the front. On the back, are the circuit boards. To open the door, you have to lift the door, then swing it open (like the sign in the door says). Someone didn’t read the sign and must have ripped with all of their might and broke the door! Since the service door is made of particle board, I had to do surgery carefully.

I got some 1/8 x 1/2 flat steel, some screws and some T-nuts. I laid the door and all of the loose parts on a table covered with a comforter. I assembled the broken pieces together, trying to wiggle the broken particle board sections together as tightly as possible. Then, I decided where to drill holes in the flat steel, and ran them through the particle board. I used some C-clamps to hold everything in place. I drilled the holes, put the T-nuts on the opposite side and then screwed the assembly together. The results weren’t perfect, but they were acceptable. If my budget was better, I would have replaced the whole service door, but $10 in hardware got me to where I wanted to be.

After screwing the service door together, I installed the new power supply board, and soldered in some new ground wire circuits. I bundled the my ground wires together and bolted them to the grounding strap in the back of the head. This should help insure the ground circuit is always maintained.

After finishing the head, I moved down to the playfield. I stripped the playfield parts off, and rehabbed the pop bumper units and the flipper units. I then cleaned and waxed the playfield, removing melted gobs of rubber rings from the play surface. I was as gentle as I could be, but some of the artwork was lost.

After I was done cleaning, I began reinstalling all of the playfield parts. I installed new clear playfield posts because the old ones were crumbling in my hands. I installed a new stand-up target because one of them was missing.

When I was finished, I installed a new rubber ring set and tested out all of the lights. One socket was dead, but I was at my imposed budget. Another issue was the flippers themselves. The units cleaned up nicely, and everything felt nice and tight where it needed to, but there were two different flipper coils on the game. Being at my budget, I had to stop where I did.

On delivery day, the family was excited to see their pinball machine return home. The kids watched as the game was being assembled. I explained some of the work I had done. After the game booted up, the kids were all set to play it, and they really seemed to love it.

So, as an adult, after the game was working and I was testing it, I got my chance to re-review Ice Fever. In the end, it wasn’t a horrible playing game. I’m still not a fan of the artwork. The game plays like a typical mid-1970s Gottlieb game, sort of slow and methodically. Some of the scoring in the game is uneven, but it’s not horrible. If Ice Fever was released in like 1972, and was an EM game, it would get a better rating – because of the limitations that EM technology imposed, but Ice Fever was from 1985, and Bally and Williams had long since brought us faster and more interesting pins than Ice Fever. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’ll give it a 5. It has some nice shots, but not many, and it is very slow playing.

I’m still not a huge fan of that title, but I’m glad I got a chance to play it again!


One of the things I find so cool about restoring these old pinball games, is bringing them back to a like new condition even though they’ve been neglected or haven’t been used in decades!

Such is the case with Cyclone.  My son and I spent the better part of last Sunday getting Cyclone to work properly.  Most of the pieces and parts of the machine were all still in place, but not functioning properly.  The trick is to figure out why they’re not working, and what we need to do to correct the various problems.

We started our day by continuing to replace the Jones plug in the head of the pinball machine.  Since pinball machines need to be transported around from time to time, it was decided back in the day, to design the games so that the head could be removed.  Jones plugs were used so that the wiring between the body and the head could easily be disconnected and reconnected.

In the case of Cyclone, the original Jones plug had become so dried out that it crumbled when we tried to reconnect them!  Fortunately, we have a scrap game that was able to donate a good Jones plug assembly.  We had to carefully remove all of the wires from the original Jones plug, one wire at a time, and solder it onto the new one.  The male side of the plug went easily.  The female side proved to be a challenge, because Williams didn’t leave a lot of slack in the wiring going to the Jones plug.  On the female side, we soldered new wires to the leads and then one-by-one we attached the original wiring to the new leads we made.  The results aren’t pretty, but the wiring is complete and works well.

After completing the wiring, we started to test the game.  We got power to the lights, but the scoring unit was having issues.  Before tracing the wiring, I decided to first check the relays to make sure that they were all working properly.

Cyclone has only six relays to operate the game, which makes the game very rudimentary by comparison to the games from the 60s and 70s.  We inspected all of the relays and found that they were all working properly, but a couple of the contacts on the relays were out of adjustment.  After readjusting the contacts, we got some of the scoring functions back, but not all.

The next thing I wanted to do was test the circuits going to the scoring unit.  This old game had the schematic pasted in the bottom of the game – which is a really cool idea!  To think that 60+ years after this game was built, I also had the schematics that went with the game was truly awesome!  The colors in the wiring of the game were faded badly, but Williams also “labeled” all of the contacts with a number, so if you found “25” in one location, all you had to do was find “25” in another location.  It was easy to make sure you were following the right wires!

We checked the wiring diagram.  The game would count up 50,000 points (5 steps on the scoring unit), but would not register 10,000 points (1 step on the scoring unit).  The score motor ran for every target hit, even the single point targets – this is different from more modern EM pinball machines.  Since the score motor ran for every target hit, I knew there was one switch which was struck 5 times in a cycle (which was working) and another switch which was only struck one time in a cycle (which I suspected was not).  Locating the offending switch was relatively easy.  We cleaned it and reset the contacts and the game started scoring properly!

Another issue we had was with the center ball kicker.  Cyclone has three upward ball kickers, which are worth big points.  The left and right kickers were working properly, but the center one did not.  Examining how the game worked with the working kickers told me a little about how the three kickers worked.

There is one kicker relay.  When a ball gets into any of the three kickers, it closes a switch which energizes the kicker relay.  The kicker relay starts the score motor and closes a contact which is connected to the 5 pulse switch on the score motor (scoring 50,000 points).  Then the score motor closes another contact which sends a pulse of electricity to the coil for the ball kicker – and the ball gets shot back into play.  The interesting thing was, there is only kicker relay, and only the kicker coil where the ball was would actually fire – but the center kicker would never fire.

First, I tested the center kicker coil for continuity and resistance.  Both were present leading me to believe that the coil was good.  Next, I tested the wiring between the three coils and found that there was continuity between all three coils.  So the electricity was able to get there, but why wasn’t the coil firing?  Williams has two switches on each of these kicker assemblies – one to start the scoring process, and the other completes the circuit for the pulse to the kicker’s coil.  Remember that I said only one kicker would fire at a time?  This is because, without the ball closing the second switch, the electricity never gets to the coil.  On more modern EM games, both or all of the kickers will fire at the same time – for simplicity.  Williams probably felt that this was a good idea in 1947, but I’m sure that operators didn’t think continually adjusting the switch contacts was a great idea.  We cleaned and adjusted the switches for the center kicker, and finally it started working! 

We got the game ready and tested it out.  We played several trouble free games, but Cyclone’s score unit didn’t like to reset all the way on its own.  Also, several of the lights in the game are out and need to be replaced, but they’re not typical pinball machine lights, so I’ll need to find a suitable alternate bulb.

It was kind of cool being able to play a “new” pinball machine which I had never played before. 

I’m confident we’ll remedy the rest of these issues over the next couple of weeks…

July 3rd went without a hitch.  Eight Ball played well, after a couple of settling in adjustments.  Target Pool and Star Trek also played well for the day.  All were back in the shop on Thursday, and set-up and ready to play by Saturday. 

I can’t say that many of my projects are moving forward, because they haven’t.  The clear-coating of Fire Queen’s playfield hit a snag when the clearcoat wouldn’t adhere to a couple of sections.  The clearcoat needs to be sanded off, and then I’ll have to start again.  I have a pinball machine in the house awaiting parts – this is a project for a neighbor.  I have a puck bowler I’m working on for another customer, and it’s been progressing more slowly than anticipated.  I cleaned and waxed the playfield on Mata Hari this past weekend, because I had a few hours and really just wanted to do some light work in between these other projects.

On top of all of this, I got hired at a new job.  It’s very exciting, but has had me racing around my old job trying to get things tied up before I leave.

I know I’ll get through it all, I’m just hoping it happens soon…

The annual block party and fireworks are only days away, and as usual, I plan on having some of my games available to play.

A lot of things have been going on around here for the last few months.  Pinball restoration has proceeded rather slowly mostly due to a lack of free time.

My home game room is currently being used for a puck bowler restoration, so for the first time, the game room will be off limits.  I’ll be setting the games up under a tent in front of the house for the day!

My tent can hold three pinball machines easily.  I had to identify three games which were fun to play and ran well at the moment.  My Bally Star Trek was the first choice.  Star Trek is a pretty game with a theme everyone recognizes.  Target Pool was another obvious choice, as it’s been running well and has been used in a few tournaments now.  My final choice was my Bally Eight Ball.

Eight Ball is a decent game, with a straight forward rule set.  The problem with Eight Ball has been the controlled lights.  Bally’s lamp sockets aren’t the greatest, and about half of the lights on the playfield only work intermittently.  This is a repair I’d have made on a game I was restoring, but hadn’t gotten around to on Eight Ball.  This evening, I relocated the wires which control each lamp socket from the small tab where they were originally soldered on to, to the base of the lamp socket.  The tab was a more secure location to solder a wire to, but over the years, the insulation in the lamp socket has shrunk, and the tab is no longer (always) touching the base of the socket.  This means, the power never gets to the lamp itself!

After relocating about three dozen wires, I cleaned and waxed Eight Ball’s playfield, and cleaned out the general illumination lamp sockets.  I also cleaned and gapped the EOS switches for the flippers and the jet bumper switches.

Saturday, I’ll place the playfield back in the game and test it to make sure everything works the way it should.

Restoring an old arcade machine is not as cool and glamorous as the end result sometimes appears – it’s often hard work, with long hours which go overlooked by many potential buyers.

Did you know that old pinball machines were *not* painted tan or brown?  Most pinball machines made before the 1980s had a white base coat.  The only reason it looks tan is because it’s covered in nicotine, a sign that the game spent a lot of time in cigarette smoke.  I’m not trying to take a cheap shot at smokers; but I am trying to illustrate what kind of work goes in to restoring an old game.  That nicotine gets everywhere, including inside of the game, and it has to be cleaned out…

That metal might have come shiny 30 years ago, but it had to be buffed and polished to become shiny again.  Those flippers might have been nice and snappy back in the day, but they had to be rebuilt with all new parts to work like new again today.   Pop bumpers, scoring mechanisms, slingshots, and drop targets all need work and attention to make sure they all work properly too.  Dozens of relays, hundreds of contacts, the list goes on…

It’s not cheap, it’s not easy, and I’ve heard people tell me I *must* be insane to do what I do.  Maybe I am, but there’s always that feeling of self satisfaction when I finish a game, and see it ready to entertain people for another generation or two.

I’m restoring a puck bowling game for a customer right now.  The right parts for this game are hard to come by – mostly, because they’re 60 years old!  Fortunately, there are no dead mice (or remnants of live mice) in this old game, but the challenges of restoring it to its former glory abound!  Some of the parts can be rebuilt, while others (if they can be located) can cost hundreds of times more than they’re actually worth, because of supply (i.e. lack there of) and demand.  These costs drive up the price of a restored game.

Then when you have restored the game, spent 30 to 40 hours cleaning, polishing, rewiring, repairing, rebuilding, etc., you price it to sell – as best you can – and compete with the likes of people on Craigslist.  They’ll offer similar titles at very low prices.  Some of them will say they “shopped” the machine and that it works “100%”.  The unsuspecting buyer may think to themselves that it’s an old pinball machine, so what should you expect?  Well, old games that work “100%” should be working the way they did back when the game was new, and anything less is not 100%…

I was bringing a game into Lanes & Games in Cambridge for a tournament a few months ago.  A woman saw me, stopped me, and asked me if I sold pinball machines  I politely gave her my card.  I told her the game I was bringing in was for sale.  She asked me how much I wanted for the game, and I told her $1200.  She looked at me like I had just said a dirty word and handed me my card back.  She said she thought the game would have cost $200 or $300!!!

That particular game, I had purchased for $400.  It wasn’t working when I bought it, but that didn’t matter to me because I was rebuilding it anyway.  The game had a great playfield and all of the game specific parts were in good shape.  I dropped close to $300 in parts into the game and spent close to 40 hours working to rebuild the game, scrub it clean, strip the playfield, touch-up the areas where the ball had worn through the finish on the playfield, and give it three coats of wax so the ball flys the way it’s supposed to.  I had to rebuild the flippers, and install new coils, I had to strip down all eight of the scoring units and recondition them. Then the pop bumpers and slingshots needed reconditioning as well.  In the end, the game plays like new, but in order to get paid appropriately for my work, I have to collect at least $1100 for the game to cover my costs – as long as I only work for $10/hour.

I’ve sold quite a few pinball machines; some have been fully restored, while others have been just rehabilitated.  The price I end up charging is a reflection of the amount of work that I had to put into the game to get it where it is today.  Some restored games can cost in excess of $2000, and while that might seem like a lot of money it’s still far less than the price of a new pinball machine!

New games today usually cost around $5000.  Costco sometimes sells an “economy-type” pinball machine for around $4000.  When these games are available, they may share the same name as their more expensive counterparts, but they also lack certain features, and are therefore less desirable when it comes to reselling the game.  Jersey Jack Pinball is reportedly selling their Wizard Of Oz pinball machine for around $7500.  Stern and Jersey Jack also offer limited edition versions of each game with a higher price tag too.  Compared to these prices, buying a restored pinball machine doesn’t sound too expensive by comparison.

Another advantage in buying a restored pinball machine is the value of the game.  Restored games hold their resale value very well.  Classic titles have a fan following among collectors, and as long as the game is maintained, the value of the game typically increases as time passes.  New pinball machines are like new cars, once the box is cracked open, the value of the game drops immediately.  If the game is a popular title, the value of the game may rise over time, but as long as the game is still popular and getting ordered, Stern will continue to produce more units, which will bring the value if the game down (supply vs. demand). 

Older games are not being reproduced.  In 1977, Gottlieb made 2200 copies of Big Hit, a cool baseball themed game I restored a couple of years ago.  No one is reproducing the game.  I’m certain that a number of copies of the game have been destroyed over the years, either because the games were cannibalized for parts and scrapped, or because the building they were in caught fire, etc.  In 35 years, how many copies of the game have been lost?  The supply drops, but when collectors play the game, and decide they like it, and want one for their own, demand increases as does value.

It’s cool being at a show or a tournament and hear how someone really likes the work I do one the games.  It’s funny to see their reaction when they see what I typically have to start with!  That’s when they start to get it.  🙂

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