Playfield Swaps - Considerations for New Collectors

By xTheBlackKnightx

April 05, 2017

This story got featured & frontpaged on May 13, 2017

6 years ago

This topic recently came up again, and I will share some thoughts, and fundamentals.

There were a lot of intriguing questions, but I will make it simpler. If a person is already saying to themselves while looking at this article,TL;DR, I would recommend not attempting a playfield exchange.

As a collector, not "owner" that has replaced several dozen playfields, a person should ask themselves one question:

Does an individual want how to learn how to restore games and know how they actually work?
Meaning "step up their game"?

If not, nearly every other possible question has already been answered such as "are you patient and willing to see a project through", or "evaluate the game quality as to value of the time versus effort spent restoring", as it makes no difference.

An individual is not going to enjoy the process whatsoever, and most likely quit, and if they start up later, will not remember where they were anyway, thereby increasing the chances the project will never be finished, again. It only gets worse, as the cycle repeats itself.  In essence, an owner now could have a non-working pinball machine that is worse condition than it was originally.  No third party restorer wants to be handed a "Big Box o' Parts" from an owner who never finished a project.  One, they have no idea where they were in the project.  Two, they do not know if all parts are on hand, available, or complete.  Three, some restorers will refuse even touch this type of game, meaning the owner is "#$@! out of luck".

This should make logical sense, and not be an archaic mystery.
Many that have come before their first playfield exchange might have wished someone could have helped them the FIRST time.  All high end restorers started out the same way at some point in their life, and many used the experience of those that have come before to teach them.
I will do so.

The benefits do outweigh the challenges, if a person is willing to take their time and learn.
A person will become very familiar with a title, so an individual can HELP OTHERS AND THE HOBBY IN THE FUTURE.
That is the long term intent, not just be an owner.

If not, and a person can afford it, pay a business the $1000-1500 (Bride of Pinbot in this particular example case) to do the work for them.
Enjoy the shiny game.
Nothing wrong with that approach.

Plenty of people I know feel overwhelmed even doing stencils or decals.

I have recently redirected another collector to other sources, as he only owns very high end restored games, and is not at all interested in doing the work himself, and could certainly afford to have others do the work for him, including shipping games to them exclusively for restoration to make them "perfect", but not necessarily extreme restoration.

Since most people may not prefer to read 50 page guides on pinball restoration, here is a "Reader's Digest Condensed Version".

Fundamentals to remember:
- Use game title experts to assist (they are out there, ASK, and they many NOT BE on PinSide, there are many other resources!)
- Use some sort of rotisserie (absolute requirement unless you like to feel the extra pain, add unnecessary time, and potential PF damage)
- If a person is commonly disorganized, get assistance and formulate a plan and storage, as a person is going to need help (overeaching capabilities)
- Protect the playfield surface while working (a very common error)
- Use the RIGHT tools and temporary storage for parts, including magnet trays (the most common error)
- ALWAYS keep game assemblies together (being lazy)
- Lay out parts for reassembly in a logical playfield order fashion (being lazy)
- Take an absurd number of photos, and then take even more (overestimating memory)
- Template the screw holes with a punch for alignment, using another playfield, used or new , even if a person has to borrow one, validate if it does have pilot holes, BEFORE starting the playfield exchange
- Be prepared to make new playfield adjustments with a drill based on misalignments, it makes NO DIFFERENCE if the PF is NOS or reproduction (this is just part of the process, leads to frustration, and wanting to quit), and use a depth limiting lock sleeve or tape on the drill bit
- Practice solder skills beforehand, not when "needed", or be prepared to redo work (a fundamental, not optional)
- Remove old solder as needed, do not just resolder on top of old connections, as you will have coil and switch issues (being lazy)
- Replace old GI braid on older games, as this just leads to problems, and is not that expensive (being cheap)
- Use new screws as needed, do not reuse stripped out pieces of junk (being cheap)
- Make repairs to assemblies and rebuild them BEFORE you install them (overestimating memory)
- Reference the wire schematics and learn the harness and colors from memory, print extra copies for a spiral notebook (overestimating memory)
- Repair all connectors AFTER playfield is completed, if they get cracked or damage, or preexisting damage (preventative damage)
- TEST all game boards for proper voltage levels, and recheck all fuses (shortcutting)
- PRETEST EVERYTHING before plugging playfield harnesses into PCBs (taking shortcuts, that lead to disasters)

If an owner has not done a PF swap (in this case the Bride of Pinbot), it is not going to take the average of 72 hours for this title example. More like 2-4 weeks, dependent on time availability. Much longer, if a person has less than 2 hours a day. If an owner excludes any of the items listed above, they certainly will have some sort of issues throughout their adventure.

"Playfield swaps are not game modifications, check your work, then recheck playfield assembly again, unless you like to repair PCBs."

Just a final note.

People should realize that when a game is offered for sale and the owner says, "a brand new playfield, decals, and backglass is included" this is not often an optimal deal based on the listed price. Consider the costs if you do not want to do it yourself, or you may have just paid for a "turd that you have to polish into a diamond" or spend $$$ having somebody else do it for you.

Common oversight error by new collectors because they do not subtract the work from the game.
The parts do not always offset cost properly.

Story photos

500px-Rotisserie_production (resized).jpeg


6 years ago

Couldn't agree with you more, great article. I restored a Solar Ride earlier this year and the commitment has to be there or like you said, the project will never get finished. That was my first swap. Working in my Playboy 35th swap next. I'm into the hobby for two years now, and I think I enjoy working on the machines as much, if not more than playing them....and I'll be the first to admit it. Have a great day.

6 years ago

I spent a year restoring Xenon. I learnt a great deal in the process. Never going to recoup the countless hours I poured into the machine.
Every part of the process was new to me. I'm not ashamed that I've actually spent money having someone else do a swap for me now. Not because I don't know how. I'm just more respectful of the time commitment involved in swapping out a game.

6 years ago

Good article, I would add to have everything playfield related working 100% before the swap (or document non-working features). I have helped more than one person who thought they broke something on the swap to have it turn out it never could have worked.

Required reading for everyone who sells a game and says. "Playfield trashed but you only need to swap in the new included playfield and it will be collector quality".


6 years ago

I have a weird dysfunction in that I actually enjoy playfield swaps. What's wrong with me?

6 years ago

Excellent article Chris!... I had an unexpected opportunity to do a Firepower swap. I had just bought my Firepower and a friend of mine won a CPR factory 2nd FP playfield that had clear coat defects as a door prize at a show, so he offered it for sale to me since he didn't own a FP... I'm one of those guys that could never afford to have this done for me, and even though it seemed to be a daunting task, I figured no better way to learn than to just dive in and do it. I did so much research on performing the swap and fixing the clear coat that it was six months before I even started it. So I took the compilation of all the advice I had received and just TOOK MY TIME. And I HAD to get it right or I'd never hear the end it from my wife who stated right before I started, "Well I better play a few games now, because it'll never work again once you take it apart!" She was teasing of course...But the end result was a perfect playing Firepower, the satisfaction of completing the project, gaining the confidence to tackle another swap, and the knowledge gained of the inner workings of games in general... And the thing that surprised me most about the whole experience was the fact that I actually ENJOYED it... I'm currently on CPR's Space Invaders pre-order list and on the Old Chicgo "gauging interest" list and eagerly look forward to both projects!... Looking for a repro Mata Hari PF BTW!

6 years ago

Solid article with great points on what really is a serious commitment.
I'm just finishing up my first play field swap on Big Brave and yes it looks fantastic, but I am retired, have the time, built a rotisserie, and am doing this because I am learning to restore old machines. I've still got a long way to go, but I know I have to be patient, and will need to reach out to subject matter experts at various times, and constantly review videos I have on pinball repair (thank you Shaggy).
I am into the Big Brave swap for probably 100 hours. Next up: Strikes and Spares, Atlantis, Sky Jump and Joker Poker.
I'm a collector not a flipper, so money is not my motivating factor. It's a labour of love, and not for the feint of heart.

6 years ago

I spent dozens of hours performing a playfield swap in my BoP, spread over a few months. Whenever I had the spirit I would work on it for a few hours, and if I did not feel like it, there was no pressure, I just let it be. Although there were times I was wondering what I let myself in with, overall it was a soothing experience, and I learned a LOT in the progress. I am actually looking forward to my next swap - different title, though ;)

6 years ago

Don't cut corners. Beware of making a game "too nice to play". Make sure it's a keeper... if not, make sure you aren't investing WAY over reasonable resale price (keeping in mind your resto time is worth nothing unless it's on commission).
The more you do it the easier it gets but EACH title is a challenge.
You WILL blast a staple through the shooter lane or a screw through the PF when starting out. You'll make mistakes. Take them, learn, and keep going.
You'll build your own set of "specialty" tools and methods to do certain tasks (like removing GI light braids).
When it's done and done right (and you playtest and adjust everything correctly) the reward is HUGE.

6 years ago

I've passed on a few "pile of parts" machines that owners have given up on. Playfield swaps aren't for everyone. It's ok just to clean it up and get it flipping. A game doesn't need to look perfect in order to be fun.

But, some people enjoy restoring games as much as (or more than) playing them. It can be a long journey, but turning on the game for the first time after a long-term restoration project is incredibly rewarding.

6 years ago

I would love to get a "box o'parts" and assemble the game. As long as the price is right.

6 years ago

This might be a dumb question TBK, and I was wondering about this point you made:

"PRETEST EVERYTHING before plugging playfield harnesses into PCBs (taking shortcuts, that lead to disasters)"

How do you go about testing everything without plugging into the PCBs? I'm in the middle of a playfield swap now, so just wondering what I should do before I get to the point of hooking everything back up. Thanks.

6 years ago

It's all a matter of what the machine means to you. That will determine how much work you will feel the need to put into it. I did it on my gorgar and it was my first ever restoration. I went nuts and even 2 part clear coated it as well. I have always loved that machine and yet my fireball classic has only been cleaned. You can easily build your own rotisserie from a plan online for under 40 dollars. I am an electrician so I built mine for free. That was great advice about the photos and then more photos and it is so worth the effort. For the novice as long as you feel capable enough stay the course be diligent and thorough. There are many threads on pinside that are helpful for playfield restoration. Great tips. Good luck to all

6 years ago

"How do you go about testing everything without plugging into the PCBs? I'm in the middle of a playfield swap now, so just wondering what I should do before I get to the point of hooking everything back up. Thanks."

Some very old restorers used WMS bench test equipment for IDC connected coils and assemblies, however I recognize that many owners may have not have access to such devices.
Some bench kits are available for early SS games such as BLT/GTB/WMS.
You cannot test the game "logic" (unless you have a full test kit) but you can still test functionality.

Here are some more basic tips.

Every owner should validate condition of coils and diodes prior to startup.
Continuity between wiring of the assembly and IDC connector should be 100% validated.
This will also ensure there are no crossed wire shorts.
Coil diodes should be tested with a multimeter so they are not shorted open or closed to avoid burning transistors, pre drivers, and resistors.
Coils can be tested using a battery pack for a "pull test", just watch the plunger, this is an old EM trick.
The same can be done for motor assemblies.
Opto assemblies can tested making a emitter assembly test pack to see if they "see the light" per say.
EMI motor boards and other pre driver boards should be have their ICs and components checked under a non-load "dead test".
Hard to reach lights and sockets on assemblies should be tested with a bulb tester on replacement.
Old crappy sockets need to go in the trash, if they cannot be properly cleaned.
Assemblies themselves should be tested for smooth functionality and operation.
All connectors should be closely inspected for signs of brittleness, discoloration for burns, and replaced as necessary with molex connectors.
This includes replacement of key pins.
Triple check pin connector wire colors and positions, as this is one of the most common mistakes leading to PCB damage.

Many of the things like electrical test jigs and tools can be made cheaply without resorting to spending more money.
This goes for rotisseries frames made out of scrap wood.

Good luck!

6 years ago

Thanks TBK! It's a Fathom that I'm swapping out, so if I run into any trouble spots, I'll just bug you :)

6 years ago

im in the middle of a pinbot play field swap right now! doing a full cabinet restore as well. this isn't my first rodeo though, and like some have mentioned above, I enjoy working on the games more than i like playing them. I build elevators for a living, and have learned more about troubleshooting elevators by working on pinball machines! the work is very satisfying and therapeutic for me.
Great article!

6 years ago

Spot on Article! I'm in the process of restoring a Gorgar I got on the cheap... I only picked it up because there was an overlay for sale on E-Bay. Iit is now fully operational (originally only turned on). After a small investment and getting some knowledge on from my pin buddy Timothie, I'm now ready to strip and replace over lay to complete playfield upgrade over replace.

I have heard some overlays are a rip because the material stretches making it difficult to align to the board... I surely hope not! but hey, if all else fails I think I can part it out and break even...

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