Dr Hacklove or How I Learned to Butcher My Favorite EM

By chromag

May 02, 2019

25 days ago

A line has been crossed. A classic has been defiled.

Here's a little story about how I mutilated my favorite wedgehead.

First, a little history rundown-

   About 10 years ago I got back into pinball. It started innocently enough, as we all know. 70's Gottlieb wedgeheads kinda became an obsession. I spent the next few years learning how to fix / mantain the ones that came my way and soon had way too many, but that's another story. I've since gained enough knowledge to be pretty dangerous, but I thought I knew my limitations. . . .I was wrong.

Through the next several years a list of favorites was created with some moving around but the top 4 pins were always -

Abra Ca Dabra, El Dorado, Atlantis, and Jacks Open. No surprises, as these are top 10 pins for most EM dudes.

   Now Abra Ca Dabra is a very special wedgehead. Its combination of art, engineering and design is unique. It demands quick response and accurate shots every second your playing while having a grand goal that involves the whole playfiend all the time! She is also gorgeous head to toe. Even the cabinet art is special. It is like no other EM. It has been my favorite pin for many years. So here's what happened.

Good Intentions Gone Bad

   4 years ago, I rolled the Ebay dice and bought my 2nd Abra from a guy in Tennesee. I sold my 1st one a year earlier to Whitey, Bay Area badass top shelf collector. He and his dad have been in the business for years and they restored it to pristine condition. But I had sellers remorse right away and started looking for another one. It was around then that it seemed the stock was rising for this title and I only saw a few for sale until I pulled the Tennesee trigger. Now this particular game was outside in the back of a truck in the pics  but I could see enough to go for it and after a quick negotiation, he dropped the price to $400 bucks.Of course shipping it was another $430 but when I received it I was happy to see a very cherry example. Solid 8's all around. After cleaning her up and plugging her in, plug and play, 100% working! Not just working, but fast and smooth, much better playing than my 1st one. I was stoked.                     Only one problem, cupped inserts. They weren't too bad or a big deal at first, but as I played her more, the yellow bonus inserts right in the middle were jacking up my games and pissing me off. Because I had recently replaced the star rollovers on my Surfer game, I thought I would just swap out the inserts on my sweet little Abra, no problem . . . right? (enter storm clouds)

   The day of the operation was filled with excitement, I had just watched a video on how to do it!  What could go wrong? I was careful with the heat gun and was quite sure I had it down to a science when I tapped the first one out. It was really tight compared to the Surfer inserts but it popped out the third tap along with a piece of the playfield.   wait what?  A piece of the playfield?!!  To my horror, a chunk of the playfield popped out too. Big chunk. A piece going from the top of the 1K insert to the bottom of the 2K insert and deep too. Now, what I should have done was walk away right then and calm down so I didn't do any more damage, but what I did do was more damage. I got the 2K out clean but the 3K . . .anyway , when I was done I had really butchered her up. Two other smaller areas also needed filling, sanding and painting and I just wanted my old game back. F me!!  What's my deal?  Oh yeah, I'm Dr. Hacklove. I covered the corpse and ran to the meds. After the smoke cleared, it was obvious that I was up that creek without a paddle.

I went into a pinball depression as far as working on them goes and didn't touch that playfield again for over a year.

   So, because I had no motivation to do anything, that playfield sat covered on the operating table in my garage, constantly reminding me what I had done. Months went by. Now and then I would pull the cover off and feel like a d_ck all over again. The cabinet was also mocking me from one of the bedrooms and I started feeling the need to fix my biggest pinball blunder. I also really missed playing her. I began looking for the inserts and discovered something else I should have known before I ever did anything. They were not sold with numbers already on them in colors specific to a game. Why did I think they where? Because I'm an idiot, that's why. For numbered inserts like those, they are not just a click away like I stupidly assumed. I looked into decals but would still have the black outline (slightly off center) to contend with. I wasn't sure where or how to start. I put the word out for help fixing a damaged playfield.  I also ordered the correct blank yellow inserts and bunch of single different ones  to play with a few ideas but I still wanted it to look exactly like it was supposed to. I felt in over my head again and still had to fix the playfield too. It was around this time that I got put in touch with Wade Krause. Most of you already know but for those who don't, Wado is a true artist devoted to pinball and he makes high quality, limited production, Gottlieb wedgehead (mostly) repro playfields. I got on the list for his upcoming ACD run and that was that. Problem solved. But after the run was finished I never heard from him. A few follow up texts and emails later it became clear that it wasn't meant to be. I was back to that unsure place but was feeling motivated to get her playing again, one way or another.

    Another month past, 14 months total since the fateful operation and I had an epiphany. I was checking out pinball stuff, more specifically led bulbs, when I saw them. . .color changing led's. I knew right then what I was going to do. I was going to do the unthinkable, I was going to customize Abra Ca Dabra!!   Purists be damned, and I was one of them!

     I got the wood filler (bondo) and watched some more videos (yup) and one day, I just did it. It wasn't that bad after it was over. Not perfect but pretty damn good, I was happy. Sanding was the same. Watched video's and went for it. Not bad either, pretty good, actually. Oh man, I almost forgot, the inserts I chose were also slightly bigger and meant that I had to drill all holes out. I just went for it one day with my cordless drill and some cabinet augers and holy sh_t, it worked. So now I had the new inserts sanded and glued in and then got the playfield yellow matched pretty good and repainted it. It didn't look professional, but it looked way better than I thought it would. All that was left were the black outlines, but I decided not to do it. I liked how it looked without them enough not to trip. I bought a can of Krylon gloss crystal clear and put one coat over inserts and touch up area only. Seemed like a good idea, but the clear ran and it left noticable boo boo lines around the intended area. It kinda ruined the whole quality of the touch up and just made it look like a hack job (see main pic). This was a big deal. I got over it, but it cut me deep. I can't seem to forgive myself for this one mistake that stands out so loud. It would look so much better today had I not done it. Truth is, I'm not over it, but the show must go on.                                                                                                   

  During those weeks, I had also been looking at different pop bumpers, lane guides and changing the stand up too. What the hell, I had already gone this far in my pinball sacrilege, why not really go for it.  So I did. Clear center inserts with color changing led's are cooler than I could have hoped, The top lane guides are trans red and purple with led's, also sick and the pops are black. The stand up is red w/ gold star. The top lane guides really pop now and look too cool and along with the bonus inserts make you feel like your playing a hybrid SS version, just fits so well and you really won't understand unless you play it. It was hard to get good pics with my phone, I'll try to add more plus a video soon.

The custom Abra Ca Dabra is finished. I am both proud and ashamed of what I've done and welcome all of your opinions. You, the people who understand this passion/sickness of mine. Just remember that I never intended to do this, it just happened by accident(s).

I will be bringing Abra to the Golden State Pin Fest in Lodi, CA in a few weeks, so please play it if your're going and then "chime in"!

The pics don't show how amazing playing this game is now. Yes, I'm biased, but still. She turned into another pin, a better experience altogether. She plays even faster, might be posessed. Just a rush from start to finish.    

 I feel better about the whole ordeal now and learned a lot albeit the hard way! 

 Anyway, thanks for reading and have fun!     Pinball for Life! 


Story photos

IMG_6018 (resized).JPG
IMG_6017 (resized).JPG
IMG_6013 (resized).JPG
IMG_6006 (resized).JPG
IMG_5996 (resized).JPG
IMG_5995 (resized).JPG


There are no comments to this article yet.

Add a comment

Wanna make a comment? Click here to sign in or register.