(Topic ID: 188636)

Re-Theming a Mariner EM (Project Pin)

By BenTheCartoon

6 years ago

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#1 6 years ago

This thread details the removal of the original artwork off of an old machine and replacing it with my own custom theme. Results may vary.


I've been toying with the idea of creating my own custom designed pin for a while now, and scouring Craigslist for a cheap, easily modded machine in my area. My criteria for the search was loose, but I came to the assumption that an EM would be ideal for a few reasons:
1.) No boards to re-code, or sound effects and music to have to try and alter, or match up with.
2.) It would give me a chance to become acquainted with fixing up an EM, as my only other pin is a Dr. Dude which I've gotten the hang of maintaining.
3.) It would be a lot cheaper to buy an EM over a more modern machine.

There were several I could have chosen from, but they either didn't have the features or layout I wanted, or they were in TOO good shape. I ideally wanted something that I wouldn't feel bad about defacing, so if it had been restored or kept in excellent condition, I passed on it out of principle.

Luck struck a few days after Christmas, as I found a listing in the same town as me for a VERY inexpensive 1971 Bally Mariner. The guy selling it was looking to reclaim some garage space, and was upfront that it had no "scores", but it worked. In fact, it was missing the entire backbox, but I figured "what the hell" and took it, thinking I could build my own backbox, and buy the parts I might need. Or alternately, I was SURE I could easily find someone with a compatible backbox that I could use. I mean, as long as it was a 4-player Bally from the same time period, it should just plug and play, right?

Well, no. But I had hoped so.


First things first, the seller was nice enough to drive it to my house as I wouldn't have been able to fit the cab into my Hyundai Elantra. I tested it out while it was still in his garage, and sure enough, the flippers worked, as did the slingshots and bumpers. That was enough for me, so I put it into my garage and prepared to move it downstairs.

Side view of the cabinetSide view of the cabinet
Front viewFront view
Top view of the playfieldTop view of the playfield
The artwork is mostly intact, but not pristine.The artwork is mostly intact, but not pristine.
Some rough areas here at the topSome rough areas here at the top

As you can see, the artwork is mostly intact, but there are some rough spots near the top, especially the left lane.

Testing it a bit more, I managed to blow a fuse almost immediately. Went and bought some new ones from Radioshack, and made a note to buy new legs and feet for the machine, as they had completely rusted and locked in place, and were not in any condition to be used on my flooring as is. I disassembled the cabinet, removing the playfield, and the board holding the relays in place, and brought those inside first, then vacuumed out the empty cabinet.

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I got to work removing the rubbers, which may not have been replaced since 1971.
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The original colors are peeking out behind a post, free from the ravages of time.
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Here's a closeup of the damage in the left lane.
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All posts and rubbers removed. Next comes the fun part. Look away if you must.
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#2 6 years ago


Here's the part that I'm nervous to share here, as I imagine the reaction from many will likely be either outrage and/or head-shaking. I've seen enough threads where people were upset that someone painted over a perfectly good cabinet with some color or another, and they then take pains to restore it back to its original glory. In this case, I'm stripping off the artwork entirely. So apologies in advance.

I took and looked up photos of the playfield, then did a very rough sketch of what I might want to put on the finished artwork. (I'm thinking Bulldogs in Space, but that may change.)
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A combination of Magic Eraser and denatured alcohol did wonders for paint removal. Bye-bye pointy lady!
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For the cabinet, I went ahead and used some orange Citristrip stripping gel, which worked astoundingly fast.
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Interestingly, the serial number was chipped off of the machine before I bought it, so I'll never know which number in the production run it was.
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It's about this point in time when I realize that I can't go any further until I get the backbox. After purchasing the schematics, it's clear that it won't fully function otherwise. So, after talking with various people, it comes to light that I don't need just ANY Bally 4-player EM backbox, it HAS to be a Mariner. Thus, the search begins anew with the artwork and project as a whole on hold until I can secure one. Ads get placed, messages sent. Months go by, until finally I purchase another Mariner at Allentown Pinfest in May. It's another project pin, and the seller would have sold me just the backbox, but I took the whole machine in case I need it for spare parts. I even tell myself that maybe I'll do a PROPER restoration of this cabinet, once this project is finished.

The backglass itself is in nearly perfect shape, with only minor flecks missing.
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Here's some pics of the intact backbox. Needs a good cleaning, but it's a start!
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It seems that the cabinet and the head aren't original to each other, either. They have two different numbers stamped on them. 2078 on the head, 2181 on the cab.
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Plugging it in, it's clear that more work has to be done to get it functioning properly. The lights do come on, and the reels reset, but it's not quite there yet. So many thanks go to the EM repair guide at pinrepair.com, without it I'd be completely lost. But at least, I'm making progress again, and hope has returned.


2 months later
#3 5 years ago


After a few weeks of sporadically messing about with wires, cleaning the stepper units and score reels, adjusting switches, ordering parts and calling friends for assistance, the machine is now practically fully functional. (Oddly, I can play a game when I reset it manually from inside the cabinet, but the start button doesn't respond anymore. There are also a couple crispy looking coils I should replace.) Nothing broken that looks unfixable, however, and I'm confident I can move forward on the artwork now.

My next move is complete disassembly. Unplugging the backbox, removing the playfield, as well as everything inside the cabinet. Of course, taking lots of pictures along the way, while bagging and labeling small parts separately for easy reassembly.

IMG_1023 (resized).JPGIMG_1023 (resized).JPGAll empty (minus the instruction cards inside the cab. I removed those as well, after the picture was taken.) Note the chipping in the top left corner of the front. I'll have to find a similar sized piece of wood to place in there, and then putty over the gaps.

The plan now is to strip the cabinet and backbox down to the bare wood, spray it with the new color, and use stencils for the new cabinet art, which I'm designing on the computer. Once the wood is fully repainted, in go the cabinet parts, using the opportunity to clean and test everything before reinstalling. Then, onto the playfield. Same deal. Disassemble down to the bare wood, bag and label everything, taking all of the pictures. Luckily, I have the spare cabinet for parts as I need them. (I've already begun cannibalizing it, and have plans to swap out more parts from it as I go. So much for giving that one a restore job... although it won't be impossible.)

Initially, I'd been debating on whether to use stencils and spray the cabinet, or use a full color wrap-around decal. Ultimately, I decided on stencils, partly to keep the EM look, and partly because I know for a fact that applying the decal will be more of a headache than it's worth, and I fear peeling, bubbles, wrinkles and tears are inevitable. Best to keep it simple, and easily touched up with more paint.
I went through a couple of revisions as I decided what would and wouldn't work as a stencil. For instance, my first draft had the title in a snazzy font that would have left islands in the letters that I would then have to go back and redo the "holes" as a separate stencil. With that in mind, I moved the title to the front, and changed the font to a more reasonable stencil design. I may still keep the original font for the backglass, we'll see.
Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 3.45.31 PM (resized).pngScreen Shot 2017-07-18 at 3.45.31 PM (resized).pngMy first crack at the cabinet layout.
Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 6.41.21 PM (resized).pngScreen Shot 2017-07-18 at 6.41.21 PM (resized).pngThen, I adjusted the colors to limit the number of stencils.
Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 9.42.50 PM (resized).pngScreen Shot 2017-07-20 at 9.42.50 PM (resized).pngThe final, stencil-ready design. I'm pretty happy with it, and will start to cut and spray shortly.

1 month later
#4 5 years ago


Moving right along, I've given the cabinet a complete strip down to bare wood. I filled in the gaps with wood putty, then gave it a couple coats of primer, and a bunch of Regal Blue.

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Now that the vector files were finalized, I enlisted the help of a friend with a Cricut cutter to make stencils out of posterboard. Ideally, I would have had the stencils be the full length of the cabinet, but I had a size limit of 12" x 24", which fortunately worked for the shapes I was using.

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All the stencils.

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Testing the backbox
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Jupiter Ascends
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Onto the cabinet

Applying them over the course of two days, I have it largely finished. There is a little bit of overspray that I need to fix, but I ran out of the blue paint, and had to order another can. It's not perfect, because I am imprecise and impatient, but it looks good enough that I'm mostly happy with it, and the imperfections (I hope) give it a look of vintage authenticity and not lazy half-assedness.

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Unfortunately, I did have to forgo including the title on the front of the cabinet, as the stencil lines were so thin that the paint kept bleeding together, and it just looked bad. Not a huge loss, however, as most EMs don't have cabinet text anyway. Just need to grab that last can of blue to fix the last bits, and then clear coat it! After that, it'll be time to reassemble the innards, cleaning and replacing parts as necessary.


#5 5 years ago

What a great project. And great storytelling as well. Favorited it

Quoted from BenTheCartoon:

... because I am imprecise and impatient, ...

Nah, you'll need both...

#6 5 years ago

I applaud your efforts, that's a big project for sure. I have only one complaint, and it's just my own opinion. I would have chosen black for the the background. It's space, and to me blue is, well.....the ocean. But that's just me.

Another thing that I would do, and you can add this to blue or black night skies...put some stars out there in space. You don't need a lot. Put a few dots of light, or a lot. Whatever you feel.

SPACE STATION Pinball Machine Game for sale by WILLIAMS - LED DISPLAY   (9) (resized).jpgSPACE STATION Pinball Machine Game for sale by WILLIAMS - LED DISPLAY (9) (resized).jpg

#7 5 years ago

Fascinating! I have a spare Sinbad pin I acquired for my Sinbad restore and have the same sort of retheme plan in mind for it.

I also respect your deliberate choice of a machine that probably needed a lot more work than it would ever get.

I hope you don't plan on stripping that back glass though! Seems like a nice piece and I'm sure you can find a buyer!

But I am curious what your plans will be for the back glass? My best idea is to combine some decals with laser cut vinyl, but haven't really thought it through yet.

#8 5 years ago

Looks great! Favorited, and looking forward to the completed project

One suggestion, you should paint the inside of the cabinet - at least at the top where the playfield sits. Some of that light-blue would still be visible

#9 5 years ago
Quoted from wayout440:

I would have chosen black for the the background. It's space, and to me blue is, well.....the ocean.

I did consider black, but went with blue for my own unknowable reasoning. Probably because the backglass will likely have a fair amount of black. Also, I just like blue.

Quoted from quinntopia:

I hope you don't plan on stripping that back glass though! Seems like a nice piece and I'm sure you can find a buyer!
But I am curious what your plans will be for the back glass?

Definitely not trashing the backglass, it's in great shape. I have put it up for sale, but haven't found a buyer yet. Partly because I'm afraid to ship it anywhere.
As for the new one, I'm likely either going to have a decal reverse printed and applied, or printed between two sheets of glass. The alternate would be hand painting it but I'm not precise enough to do that.

Quoted from songofsixpence:

One suggestion, you should paint the inside of the cabinet - at least at the top where the playfield sits. Some of that light-blue would still be visible

Oh, there's enough overspray. That old color is long gone now.

Glad to see this is getting some positive attention!

#10 5 years ago

Finished with touchups and clearcoats. Assembled next to Dr. Dude and RetroPie cabinet. Now I can start putting the innards back, and begin working on the playfield itself.

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2 years later
#11 3 years ago

Oh wow, has it really been 2 years since I updated this?

(Narrator: "It was.")

Well, at any rate, the project has largely been on hiatus, but not forgotten. (It's hard to completely ignore a machine of this size.) But, due to a number of factors, I haven't been able to progress too far on the re-theme, sadly. I wanted to get it 100% functional before I spent a ton of time on the new artwork for a machine that doesn't work properly. It was SO CLOSE to being there, too, but I couldn't quite get it all the way there. The most persistent issues being a frequent locking-on of the 10 point relay, and the fact that I STILL couldn't figure out the start button issue. There was no rush, but it ended up going on the back burner for longer than I anticipated. I occasionally had some friends and knowledgeable league members try their hands at helping out, but to no real success.



In the course of all this, I happened to get in touch with Nic Schell of Nic's North American Pinball Tour. I figured, "If anyone can help me out with this, it's him." Alas, he had already finished the tour by the time I contacted him, but an impromptu trip to Roanoke, VA to visit the Pinball Museum convinced my wife and I to make the move ourselves. (We were ready to leave the cold and gloom of Central New York before the next winter, and Virginia had been on our radar as a potential location, so this was particularly serendipitous.)

Now a Virginia resident, and with the Pinball Museum close at hand, my passion has been renewed. Nic recently paid a visit and had Mariner running properly in very short order, and I've made it my mission in the next few weeks to give it a complete rebuild and cleaning to make sure it STAYS working. And so, the adventure continues!

(Obligatory Photo: About to perform some surgery, as per Nic's instruction.)
The heart of the beastThe heart of the beast

7 months later
#12 3 years ago

Part 6: Naked and Afraid

As promised, the work continues - slowly, but surely.

Following the advice of NicoVolta, I have done a complete rebuild of the cabinet score motor and relays (including replacing the power cord), with the backbox and playfield soon to follow. But, speaking of the playfield, I have FINALLY finished tearing it down and removing the remaining artwork.

Stripped of the parts, but not of the artsStripped of the parts, but not of the arts
The (mostly) naked playfieldThe (mostly) naked playfield
The tangle of removed partsThe tangle of removed parts

While I had used a combined method of sanding and alcohol+magic eraser to remove most of the artwork, to get the side areas with all the plastics I ended up using some Citristrip which, although it did end up removing the paint, also chewed up the inserts a bit. (The alcohol wasn't super nice to it either, but wasn't AS damaging.)

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Well, I've come this far, so I might as well go all the way. Out comes the hairdryer, and so do the inserts. A quick sanding and polishing later, and they are good as new! I was nervous about removing them, but it was actually easier than I anticipated. Not one of them broke (although even if they were to, I still have the spare cabinet to grab some extras from).

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Sanded and sortedSanded and sorted

Before and after the insert removal:

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Now we're fully nakedNow we're fully naked

So, now the next step will be to spray on a base coat of primer, and then begin to draw the new artwork! It's happening! (...and only 3 years after starting...)

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