Hello! In May 2021 I purchased a SS Mata Hari that had many problems with the goal of fixing all of the electronic and mechanical issues. I'm pretty new to the world of pinball repair, and at the time I had almost no experience working with electronics. I'm just a guy who wants to learn how to fix and build stuff. The goal of this Pinside post is to document my experiences publicly. I hope others find value in my posts, but I'm not concerned if they don't; after all I won't be treading any new ground here. I'm fortunate to have a few very knowledgeable good friends who have been generous with advice, and this forum has also been a valuable resource. I'm grateful for all of the information available on the internet, and I would like to express gratitude towards the giants and geniuses who guide my efforts.
First I need to catch you up to speed, as I've already done several things to improve the game. Here we go.
Back in May I drove about 75 minutes to purchase the game from a very nice facebook marketplace stranger. The man was not a pinball enthusiast, and had purchased the game about a decade prior to entertain his grandchildren. His grandchildren are older now and not interested in late-70s pinball, and when they game stopped being playable he decided to simply sell it instead of paying to have it fixed. When he turned the game on it booted up, the chimes worked, would add credits, and would technically start a game. But that's about it. None of the displays worked, and a bunch of playfield lights and coils were out. The flippers and knocker were the only coils that worked, which made it effectively unplayable. When I opened up the backbox I was glad to see all of the boards looked pretty good, with the exception of the rectifier board, which looked rough (I would later realize almost every wire to the rectifier board was soldered to Test Points instead of using molex connectors). We agreed on a price, he helped me load it into my SUV, and I was on my way home wondering what exactly I got myself into.
After I got it unloaded and in my basement, I booted it up and just stared at it. What the hell have I done? I don't know anything about this.
As I mentioned in my intro, I had almost no experience at the time working with electronics. I'd used a soldering gun only a handful of times in the past, and never for electronic components (well, never successfully... there was that one time in college i stupidly attempted to fix a PCB and ruined it, but i digress). Browsing Pinside forums and googling, I realized I would need to gain some new skills and equipment before I started diving into fixing my Mata Hari. I had a few basic/common tools, but I didn't own a soldering iron or anything. All I had was a pair of needle nose pliers, a 5/8ths wrench, various screwdrivers, a dedicated table in the basement next to the machine with a chair, a notebook, and a laptop. The first thing I did was buy a heat-adjustable soldering iron, solder, and a basic "learn soldering" kit (https://learntosolderkits.com/collections/all/products/learn-to-solder-kit-blink). In retrospect, it's almost painful how basic these types of kits are, but I'm not too proud to admit I wasn't born knowing how to solder electronics, and this experience was a very valuable first step for me. Seeing the lights work when I pressed the buttons was exhilarating, and gave me the confidence I needed to keep going.
While I didn't feel comfortable working with any of the electronics in her, I felt fine cleaning the game, replacing rubbers, etc., so I placed an order with Marco Pinball for a variety of items, including a new rectifier board. "Fear is the mind killer", "fortune favors the bold", and all that, right? Based on how it looked, and from what I read online, I knew enough to know the rectifier board needed to be replaced. Maybe I'd only ever made a LED blink, but I was determined to make this pinball machine sing. I also ordered a molex re-pin kit for the rectifier, a bunch of extra .156 and .100 crimp terminals, a crimp tool, some new pinballs (lol), replacement pop bumper caps, fuses, and some cleaning cloths. I happily cleaned the game and installed the new parts, as it motivated me to keep going, although every time I went into the basement, the sultry seductress's scorn stung.
Next I purchased a basic LED clock kit on Amazon (amazon.com link ») (inb4 yes, Jeff Bezos bad, Amazon bad). I wasn't able to get the clock to work after a few hours, and I was pretty frustrated, so I blamed crappy Chinese parts and bought another one. When I couldn't get that one to work either, I reached out for help. Turns out I was supposed to apply ~9VDC of power to the board, which I guess I was just supposed to magically know, since the instructions never once mentioned it. Pro-Tip: Don't assume people buying a beginner-level "practice learning kit" know anything, even things that seem obvious to people with experience. I felt a little embarrassed, but was undeterred. My mindset is that every mistake I make is an opportunity to learn, and one step closer to playing my Mata Hari!
I think it's worth mentioning that the game didn't come with a manual, but did come with full complete schematics, which have been so very helpful. When I first got the game I would sometimes open up the backbox and stare at the schematics and try to make sense of it. I'd had no previous experience reading schematics, so a little googling went a long way to help me learn the symbols/etc. Slowly but surely things started clicking. I realized that the boards are labeled A1 - A5, and the pin connectors on each were J1 - JX, and every connection, component, test point voltage, etc. were all spelled out for me. I could look at the wiring diagram and see the connections, and trace them on my game. It started making sense, and it was comforting. With a few hours (maybe a few more than I'd like to admit) of careful study, the schematics went from absolute jibberish to a complete road map of my game. What an amazing resource. Also, I'm learning, and it feels great.
After finishing up with "the damn clock", I wanted more practice but I didn't want to work on things that weren't useful in some way. The damn clock does enhance my pinball area a bit, but I had a hard time finding more advanced projects that interested me. As a guitar player, effects pedal building and modding has been on my radar for a long time, so I decided to jump in and build one. As with most things, there are some amazing resources out there and a whole lot of junk. Trying to save some money, I bought a Big Muff Pi Op-Amp kit on Amazon from China, not realizing it would take 6 weeks to ship until after i ordered it. Christ. So I started looking around online. There are many fine websites out there for pedal builders and modders, but I haven't found one I like more than www.generalguitargadgets.com. JD has aggregated an amazing amount of guitar pedal knowledge and content on his site, and he has all kinds of kits, pcbs, and parts for sale. I'm not affiliated with him in any way, but I really value the work he's done and he's an extremely nice, patient, and helpful person who answered several (very dumb) technical questions I sent him via email. If you're interested in building a guitar pedal, I recommend checking out General Guitar Gadgets. Give that man some money!
I know this is a pinball forum, and not for guitar pedals, but this is an important part of my journey. I won't be off-topic for long, so feel free to skip this paragraph if it doesn't interest you. I started off with a Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-808 clone: populated/soldered the PCB, and assembled the pedal. I was beside myself when I plugged it in for the first time and it worked and sounded great, even though I would later learn that I'd made a few small mistakes. Details, right? I took a bit of a detour here and spent about a month or so digging into the TS circuit, learning all kinds of stuff, and building 3 more pedals before I realized I'd gotten off track and had to pull my focus back to Ms. Hari. However, the final pedal I built, a Keeley modded TS-808 with 6-way diode selector, is simply *chef's kiss*
Back to Mata Hari. I'll admit I dragged my heels on installing the new rectifier board because I was intimidated by it. The transformer and the rectifier board provide power to the rest of the game, and I knew if I fucked it up I'd be in worse shape than I was at the time. Fear of further damaging the game caused me to slow down considerably, but wasn't going to stop me. The first thing I did was unscrew the trans/rect mount from the game and pull it out onto the glass (with everything still connected) to take pics and really evaluate the situation. The situation was bleak. Only a handful of wires in J1, J2, and J3 were connected, and most everything was soldered onto test points. Woof. I carefully labeled each wire as best as I could to help me identify later, and then clipped every wire (except the wires connecting rect to trans) from the rectifier board, and completely removed them both from the game and onto my table/bench. It was a big moment for me because I knew there was no turning back. It felt like the game was entering a chrysalis, as it was both at its most vulnerable and in a state of change.
The new rectifier board I got from Marco did require me to solder the connections, but that was old hat for me at this point. My real concern were the wires that were in place, as the wires connecting the trans to rect looked horrible and were of varying guages (I'm estimating they were between 20-24AWG). I can't remember exactly which post I saw, but I read here on Pinside that 18 AWG wire is the best to connect trans to rect, so I drove over to Home Depto. No luck. Ok, let's try Lowes. Not gonna happen, idiot. Alright, let's google hardware stores near me. My options were either Home Depot or Lowes. Good lord, ok, so I had to order some wire from the internet and wait. Not that it matters, but I ordered several guages at the same time to start building some inventory, and when I got the package they sent me everything except the 18 guage wire I immediately needed, so I had to wait a bit longer.
I finally found some time to sit down and rewire the transformer this past weekend. I guess it's worth noting that I have mild colorblindness, and while I live in a colorful world, I sometimes struggle with color identification when it isn't very obvious. Fortunately this almost never impacts my life (thanks, Crayola, for printing the name of the color on your crayons!), but often wires are color-coded in electronics, which does me absolutely no good. I noticed that many of the wires in my game are "scored", meaning there's a base color with a second color marked on it incrementally, but I was unsuccessful in finding a supplier than can sell me all of the colors and variations i need for my game. Side Note: If anyone knows where I can buy wires with the same color varieties in my game, I would be thrilled. However, right now all I have is my 6-color variety pack. There are way more than 6 colors, so I concluded it would be futile to attempt to follow any of the color guidelines when replacing wires. It would be great, but I'm shit at identifying colors, and i can't source the correct wires anyway, so what's the point? As of right now the only wires I've replaced have been the wires connecting the trans to rect, and it's pretty easy to identify where they're connected to, so I'm not worried about it. I'm sorry if my flippant disregard towards wire colors infuriates you.
Using the chart in the schematics, I initially wired up the transformer for 115V, was careful to mind which side of the rectifier board the wires should go, soldered everything, and mounted the new board. I pinned J2 6 and 7 (I think) only for the main power and return, plugged in the machine, and turned it on to test the test points. I conferred with my friend, and based on my results and an experience someone here on Pinside had, I decided to change from 115V to 120V. I changed the voltage output on the transformer, and did a little clean up of the wires so it looks nicer. Hooray! The new rectifier board came populated with new fuses, and at this time I also changed the fuse on the playfield and in the Solenoid Driver. Next step: pin the connectors.
As with many things in this process, I'd never used a crimping tool before, so I was grateful for this tutorial I found on YouTube:
Really, though, crimping the terminals is the easy part. The difficult part was identifying each connection. Using the schematics, I was able to narrow down most wires by noting which Test Point it was previously connected to and where the wire was going (even if I couldn't easily tell where it was plugged in, I could usually determine approximately where it was headed), and then I confirmed each connection with my new digital multimeter. One by one i identified, and pinned the connections until I had pinned them all. At this point the wires were a mess, but the rectifier board was fully pinned, and I was ready to turn it on.
I flipped the switch and nothing happened. I waited a few seconds and nothing happened. "Just great..."
I looked down and noticed I'd failed to plug the game in before turning it on. I flipped the switch off, plugged it in, and turned it on, and: We have attract mode!
Son of a bitch, I couldn't believe it. There were a few bulbs out here and there, but GI was working and attract mode was working. I started a game and I was playing Mata Hari! Every switch and coil seemed to work properly, except the right sling switch needed a minor adjustment (which took about 1 minute). At first the left drop target bank seemed a little sluggish, but after the first game I haven't had any issues, so I'm not terribly worried about it at this point. Test Point 2 on my Rectifier Board was the only one not testing within range before I pinned everything, and it was clocking in at 231.9VDC (on the schematic it says 230VDC), so I think I'm in good shape. The only noticeable part of the machine that wasn't working were the 5 displays. I turned it back off, cleaned up the wires, mounted the trans/rect inside the machine, put the backglass back on, turned off my basement lights and basked in the glow of my pinball machine for a few minutes. I won't lie, I celebrated a little bit for the progress I made and for not blowing it up, and the wife and I played a few games that evening.
But that's enough celebrations, I think, until we're at 100% functionality, and now I need to get these displays running. My gut was telling me that it's more likely for 1 thing that affects all 5 displays to go out than for each one of the 5 displays to be bad, although I did have to reckon with the reality that I might have to replace one or more displays. At about 70 bucks a pop on Marco, that's not really in the budget for this game, so I committed to doing everything in my power to fix them before deciding to buy new. In my first round of testing I failed to notice the cause, and I read a suggestion here on Pinside by Quench to jiggle J1 on the MPU. I could see in the schematics that a bunch of connections flow over to the displays, and while jiggling did nothing, I decided to re-pin J1 and test every connection while I was at it. I re-pinned it, and tested/confirmed every connection, and it didn't make a difference. I don't think that was a waste of time, and I'm planning on repinning every connection before I'm done, and it helped me narrow down the issue.
If you're still reading this, I assume you probably know what this issue is: The High Voltage Section on the Solenoid Driver is absolutely wrecked. After I finished re-pinning J1 I went back to testing with my multimeter, and noticed I'd previously missed the HV Test Point on the Display Boards, which was fluctuating all over the place. I tested the HV TP on the Solenoid Driver, and sure enough no High Voltage is being sent to the displays. I unhooked all of the J-connectors and dismounted the SD from the back-box, and carefully placed it on my table/bench. I tested every component on the board, and almost every component I tested in that High Voltage section was messed up. Fortunately the rest of the board seems fine.
I owe a beer to the person who runs this website, and I have taken every bit of advice they offer in regards to bulletproofing the HV section of the SD board. I have an order in with Marco Pinball for the replacement parts and a bunch of other stuff I needed, including some wire brushes to clean connectors, heat shrink tubing, an inclinometer, an extractor tool for molex connectors, and some desoldering braid (which I've never used, but looks cool). The tracking number I have says it'll be here on Saturday. My wife works this weekend, so I should be able to replace all of the parts on the board, and see what happens.
Stay tuned. Or don't. It's your world.