(Topic ID: 326507)

A Tale of Two Lightnings

By sethbenjamin

1 year ago

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#1 1 year ago

I'm way behind on documenting my restoration work.
About this time last year I started in on a pair of Stern Lightning machines, a title you pretty much never see restored, but which is also just about always pretty badly worn out. I was pretty psyched to get two of these machines restored and back into action.

You can see here the first of the machines set up and waiting for teardown; the other is behind it. I won't get into a bunch of reference photos because that's not really all that interesting, will focus here on the more interesting aspects of the restoration...

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#2 1 year ago

The inserts in these games were all cupped and wonky. Everything came out and the playfields needed a lot of time with magic eraser and alcohol, followed by lots and lots of cleaning before they were ready to have anything else done to them. Wish I'd have taken some more photos at this stage...

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#3 1 year ago

Eventually I got to the point where I could glue in new inserts.
The arrows I didnt even attempt to reuse; there were warped and twisted beyond any point trying to salvage them.
I had intended to replace theh circle inserts as well, but...these measure 63/64", not 1" even. That doesn't sound like a lot, but after wasting a bunch of time trying to sand a round insert down consistently using 80 grit sandpaper, I gave up and flattened the old inserts instead.
The large blue arrows are always a disaster in Lightning machines, so i got a pice of 1/4" polycarbonate and had some new ones made. They were a tiny bit tight initially, but with some gentle sanding I was able to sneak up on a good fit. IMG_8217 (resized).PNGIMG_8217 (resized).PNG

Last photos show the playfields ready to get an initial clear coat.

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#4 1 year ago

At that point, it was now time to start filling all the low spots, dripping in clear coat with a syringe. There were a ton of low spots, so I marked them out with tape...74A4B7A9-EDE9-4D17-AA9F-122CED62CC69 (resized).jpg74A4B7A9-EDE9-4D17-AA9F-122CED62CC69 (resized).jpg

Then I had to go around and drip in clear.
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In theory, you're supposed to level sand this kind of thing with a big sanding block. In practice, if you do that you will absolutely burn through the thin initial clear layer you put down, and if you don't catch it quickly, you'll damage the already compromised artwork! So, spot-sanding with 400 grit paper it is.
There will be several more layers of clear on a project like this, so things will have a chance to get evened out over the course of subsequent layers.
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#5 1 year ago

Next, it's time to start doing paint apps.
*Some* of the keylines on Lightning are nice, normal black outlines. I started with those first and took care of all the arrow inserts.
I use the Silhouette cutter to make little stencils and just work my way around. I find airbrushing painted stencils is far more opaque and looks better than using decals, all though as you will see, sometimes decals are the way to go. But in this application I did paint because I try to go that route whenever it's practical. The darker appearance of these keylines is because the clear coat has been sanded. Once the next coat goes on, the difference is almost entirely imperceptible.

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#6 1 year ago

Lots of ground in dirt means painting over stuff, but on Lightning there's the extra curve ball of reproducing the dot patterns.
On the upper playfield, the dots are green. No big deal, off my scans I can isolate the green areas and do a bit of digital reconstruction.
But first, the analog work. Frisket film and airbrush.
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I used the computer to make some masking stencils for other damaged artwork while I was in this area of the playfield. I didn't get a specific picture of those repairs being made, but you can see the "after" in some of these photos.
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Before the decal can go on, there has to be an intermediate layer of clear coat. I try to do as much in each "pass" as I can, to minimize the amount of clear coating needed. It's expensive and time consuming, and contrary to a lot of popular opinion, more is not better.
Here the upper playfield is getting its white background repainted. Easier to just stretch one big sheet of frisket in this instance. Lot of time spent cutting, but then you can just hit it all and it's done.
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Ready for one more clear coat:

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It wasn't necessary to airbrush out the whole area with new yellow, so some of the green was still there as you can see before the decal went on. But, I wanted to restore as much detail as I could, so the decal reestablished the faint fade out dots on the left hand side.

Somehow I didn't document putting the green dots decal in place.
So, here's a detail photo from the fully-reassembled machine:
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#7 1 year ago

Where did obtain replacements for all four colors of the arrow inserts? I saw a restoration where they used the same color for the ex ball and Special arrows (both orange or both red, can't recall) so figured at least one color must not be available - which also now made those shots confusing to the player.

#8 1 year ago

I had to perform a similar maneuver on the lower playfield. The horseshoe loop had insufficient mylar and never got cleaned, so these are always in pretty rough condition. IMG_8197 (resized).jpgIMG_8197 (resized).jpg

As with the upper playfield, the base yellow got sprayed with the airbrush and frisket method.
I really didn't want to have to get into redoing a lot of lettering unless I absolutely had to, so I very carefully cut around it, leaving frisket in place precisely outlining those details.

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I didn't want a "hard edge" where the yellow meets the rest of the playfield details, but there really isn't a line to cut the frisket to. In cases like that, I like to go ahead and overspray by a little bit, then come back with a Q-tip and some isopropyl alcohol and "erase" the paint, blending it in so that it looks natural.
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After an intermediate clear coat, my decal was ready to be applied. The repair is very nearly seamless!
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#9 1 year ago
Quoted from frenchmarky:

Where did obtain replacements for all four colors of the arrow inserts? I saw a restoration where they used the same color for the ex ball and Special arrows (both orange or both red, can't recall) so figured at least one color must not be available - which also now made those shots confusing to the player.

Honestly I can't remember where I sourced these. But it didn't require a ton of research, either - these probably came from either Marco or Pinball Life.

#10 1 year ago

One of the biggest pains in the rear on this was redoing the keylining and bonus numbering.
I curse the graphic artist at Stern who thought it was a swell idea to have concentric circles instead of plain black keylines, and that to use white numbering *with a black shadow line.*

I couldn't see how this was gonna work any other way than to use waterslide decals. Way too much potential for error using masking and aiirbrush. You'd have to align each one perfectly, and I just wasn't convinced I was going to make it through all that without blowing it at some critical point in the process.

So...decals. If you have a vinyl cutter, decals like these become a lot easier to manage. I used white waterslide paper, and with the keylines just allowed for a bit of "bleed" so that there wouldn't be any white edges. The numbering wasn't perfect from the factory, so I figured any white edge I got there would look on par with the original. It takes some time to place everything, but in the end it worked really well. No, the decals aren't as opaque as painted keylines and lettering would have been, but it still looks really good and isn't terribly noticeable when you're playing a game.

Here are sheets of decals, fresh from the printer and cutter. Not sure what I was thinking, trying clear paper. White paper won out.
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First decal down. It works!
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Working my way down until all the keylines are done. IMG_8422 (resized).jpegIMG_8422 (resized).jpeg

Now it's time for numbering.
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Placing these was a hold-your-breath type of affair.
I really agonized here!66546099874__6A4626DC-50E0-4071-B074-0E24D04B172F (resized).jpeg66546099874__6A4626DC-50E0-4071-B074-0E24D04B172F (resized).jpeg
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Looking decent!
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#11 1 year ago

Once the playfields had a bit of cure time, they were ready to re-populate:
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I used Yoppsicles throughout for the controlled lamps. I'm never going back! If David can figure out a way to eliminate GI sockets, I'll be over the moon.
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I made sure to make a mylar label to cover the whole horseshoe. The ball drops here many times per game and presumably has a ton of spin when it does, if the worn spots on these playfields were anything to go off. It's a hard to reach area, and even a diligent owner is probably gonna shirk on cleaning back there as well as they ought to.
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Playfield coming along nicely. Looking great!
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#12 1 year ago

At some point in this process, my spray booth curtain arrived, after many weeks of supply chain problems. I'd been running the playfields back and forth to a local cabinet shop to use their booth, since mine was unusable until it could actually be contained.
It's really nice to be able to do spraying in-house, and not at someone else's convenience:
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First thing I did in there was finish up a long delayed Joker Poker cabinet repaint.
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But then I moved on to repainting this Lightning cab.
Base coat and blue stencil layer:
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Yellow stencil layer:
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Both layers, prior to semi-gloss topcoat.
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Finished with a semi-gloss topcoat:
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#13 1 year ago

I love designing custom instruction cards. These were fun.

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#14 1 year ago

Hrm...I didn't get pics when I corrected the legibility issue with a drop shadow effect, or a restored apron.
My bad...

#15 1 year ago

Looking lovely and playing fast. Unfortunately, the new BG Resto backglass didn't arrive in time for me to get a photo with it installed. Alas.

One of these is currently at DickHamill 's house, waiting for him to program a proper rule set for it. It's a cool layout that is just screaming to be made better use of! After what he did with Galaxy, I'm pretty psyched to see what kind of a game Lightning will become...

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#16 1 year ago

Great job(s)! Have kept mine since the 90s and always loved it. Recently finished 'refurbishing' it like leveling all the sunken inserts and re-pinning connectors that were long overdue etc., so I would love to try that retooled ruleset myself too when it is written... now that I replaced the original mpu with a Weebly and learned how to successfully burn the chip for the custom code socket.

#17 1 year ago
Quoted from frenchmarky:

I would love to try that retooled ruleset myself too when it is written...

Nice thing is, you won't have to burn any chips - the new code will run on an Arduino daughterboard which will plug right into the existing MPU. It'll work with Weebly or Alltek boards as well as originals. Sound package will be all new as well, run off a WAV trigger board (unless Dick comes up with an even easier way to do that.) He's got a bunch of irons in the fire currently, but I'm really eager to see what he comes up with; Lightning is crying out for a code re-write!

#18 1 year ago

Oh okay thanks, found the site with his kits on it. When/if he does the code, it looks pretty easy even for me. Says not currently compatible with Weebly but if that's the case I can swap the Weebly with the Altek in my EBD since I want to get the little Oliver extras in my EBD anyway which are only on the Weebly.

#19 1 year ago

Its not advertised yet (I need to fix that and other old pics), but all nvram.weebly.com MPUs shipped starting about 50 days ago have a dedicated socket to plug the Arduino directly into the MPU. You don't need the J5 breakout board (and actually the breakout board won't work due to the clock setup being used). Just move two labeled jumper shunts up one spot to the arduino position and remove the U9 CPU chip. Then the arduino can take over the MPU

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#20 1 year ago

Thank you, I did recall seeing that Arduino text on my new board while I was repinning connectors, so I'm good to go.

#21 1 year ago

Great work!

One of my biggest regrets in pinball was buying…then selling my lightning without even setting it up to see if I liked it. Sat on it for a few years and got discouraged just looking at it since I didn’t know where to get parts for it back in the day.

#22 1 year ago
Quoted from EJS:

Sat on it for a few years and got discouraged just looking at it

I have to say, these playfield restorations were among the hardest I've ever had to take on. The more work you have to do and the more layers of clear you have to introduce, the more potential there is for trouble. I would never do this much work on a game if a decent reproduction playfield was available.
But, doing this kind of intense work on a title that is otherwise not very in demand is really satisfying. I like giving the more neglected titles a leg up!

#23 1 year ago

Doing a full restoration like that is just way beyond my capabilities and initiative, so I take the route of "What can I get done on this game with what it's got, what I've got and some new parts?" Fix up this, fix up that, so yeah the game doesn't look fully restored with a clearcoated playfield and restored cabinet but is reliable and plays as it is supposed to. I did do a couple of pf swaps eons ago though.

#24 1 year ago

You did an awesome job. I'm in awe of your restoration skills. Game looks cool too.

6 months later
#25 1 year ago

Just a brilliant job!!

#26 1 year ago

Damn that's alot of work! Really well done

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