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(Topic ID: 116448)

Total newb- should I restore a pinball machine?


By polyacanthus

5 years ago



Topic Stats

  • 65 posts
  • 35 Pinsiders participating
  • Latest reply 5 years ago by polyacanthus
  • Topic is favorited by 4 Pinsiders

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    There are 65 posts in this topic. You are on page 1 of 2.
    #1 5 years ago

    Hi, I think I'm in the right place... I'm pitching to my wife the idea of getting a pinball machine. I get a lot of satisfaction out of getting things cheap and fixing them up- for example all my lawn and garden equipment that I bought in non-working condition at scrap prices and now works great I have a lot of electrical and mechanical experience from tinkering not to mention repairing toy trains professionally for many years.

    Anyway, it seems like the best way to learn is to jump right in. But what pitfalls do I need to look out for? Are there certain models or issues that just aren't fixable or worth fixing, or are there better brands or models for a beginner to get into?

    Thanks!

    #2 5 years ago

    Before you do anything, research, research, research, and then do just a little bit more. Check Vid's guides for a lot of restoration based information.

    #3 5 years ago

    This is not a cheap hobby. like shoot said do your reserch. mistakes can cost you hundreds or more. Just like cars you have good years from makers then have bad years.

    #4 5 years ago

    It's how I started. Picked up a non-working SFII for $300 and got it working, had it and played it for a while, kept making improvements then sold it for a bit of a profit. Just start cheap, but expect to spend money. I would recommend staying away from EM's unless that's what you are into.

    #5 5 years ago

    Research should include scouring the internet for parts for the particular title you are considering. Lots of times the parts are impossible to purchase.

    #6 5 years ago

    This hobby is a money pit.

    If you get an $800 machine for $300 and fix it up, you'll likely end up putting $1200 into it in parts, tools, and supplies.

    For a beginner, I'd suggest starting with older games from the late 70s or early 80s. They are much simpler than newer games, have lets parts, less wiring, and are easier to diagnose. Once you successfully disassemble and reassemble it, you will probably be better equipped to tackle newer and more complex machines once you learned some of the basics of how an older one operates.

    #7 5 years ago

    It sounds like you have a reasonable background to jump into pinball machines as a hobby. Early Bally solid state are a great starting point for a beginner, there are a lot of machines with huge production runs so parts are generally easy to come by - at least for mechanical and electrical "common" parts. There are also many folks with in depth knowledge of this series of game to help you through problems. Another good choice is the Williams System 11 series of games.

    For your first game, it would probably help to buy one that at least does something, maybe at least it boots up. Buying a totally dead game for your first might be more than you want to chew for your first experience.

    It might help if you can take someone along with a little experience for your first purchase - at least to identify potential problems such as poor hacks. The more someone inexperienced has been in a game attempting to repair it, the more likely this will add difficulties in troubleshooting and correctly repairing a game.

    Lots to learn, read up, and take your time. Asking this question was a great start.
    Welcome to the madness!

    #8 5 years ago

    I agree with Wayout440 - start with something at least partially working for your first game. Shop it out, clean up any hacks, etc. Also, early solid state Ballys are a great starting place; they're easier to learn on than many.

    I went from buying fully working games, to ones with progressively bigger issues, eventually to completely dead games.

    Oh, and DON'T work on a game with the power on and risk shorting something.

    #9 5 years ago

    Do it, you will love it. Tearing down a dirty machine and rebuilding is a blast, and it sounds like you enjoy that kind of thing. As others have said, don't go in thinking you will make money, go in with the mind of a hobbyist. Be careful about buying a machine that needs game specific parts, ramps, toys, backglass, and sometimes plastics. They can be impossible to find. So, if you find something like that, research parts availability before you commit to buying the machine.

    #10 5 years ago

    I think EM's are cheaper & easier to start with, but that's just me since I grew up playing them. Once you get an EM up & running properly, its pretty much bulletproof!!

    #11 5 years ago

    Whatever you do, don't get a Chicago Coin brand as your first pinball machine. OK for a later purchase, just not a first project. Trust me on this.

    #12 5 years ago

    You probably won't find any pins at "scrap" prices like an old lawnmower.

    By the time you see an ad on Craigslist, 50 pinheads have already called on it.

    If you see a pin that has been up for sale over a hour, assume it is overpriced, or something drastic is wrong with it.

    OTOH, you are mechanically inclined, so you are the right kind of person to own a pinball machine.

    Unlike lawnmowers, pins were only designed to last 3 years, so the plastics, the electrical connectors, the paint, and the wood are all made of crap.

    What titles do you remember liking as a kid?

    monocirrhus_polyacanthus_3.jpg

    #13 5 years ago

    Hey polyacanthus, welcome to the site and the MADNESS!!!

    I like your thinking cause I did pretty much the same thing. I knew nothing about fixing a pinball machine but restored a Hurricane that was a mess when I got it. Now it looks unbelievable and plays perfect. It's such great satisfaction every time it's played.

    For a restore candidate, I'd grab a machine in the $800 - $1,200 range to start so if you can't do it (for w/e reason), you won't loose too much $.

    Best thing of all is that by here on Pinside, if you have ANY questions on anything, the awesome group here will help you out in any way they can. These guys are the best!

    Anyway, good luck to you and I look forward to seeing you around the forums.

    Take care.

    Derek.

    #14 5 years ago

    To me the only way to get into the hobby is to start with a $100 to $300 EM project machines (or two). Make your mistakes on the cheaper stuff and then as you learn the machines, the people to avoid, the machines to avoid, etc start stepping up to better & better machines.

    My son & I started in the hobby this way about 6 years ago and through some hard work, fixing and flipping a bunch of machines, buying smart and making lots of friends in the hobby we managed to build up a pretty nice collection spending very little cash.

    It isn't a get rich scheme but if you want to learn a lot - not spend a ton of cash - and have your machines fairly cheap in the end you can make the process work. You will never get paid for your labor and my average profit on each machine was under $75 but over time the hobby can support itself.

    So if you buy two EM's for $400 and fix both of them. Sell one for $350 and take that money and buy two more machines. Sell one of them for $350 after it is fixed - etc after 3 or 4 machines your first machine is free. Repeat the process a dozen times and you have 3 or 4 free EM's. Sell a couple of those and buy a cheaper SS machine or two and start the process over again.

    Once you get a feel for things buy pinballs, rubber rings, bulbs, etc in bulk to bring your cost down. Again using some of the profits from the first few machines and over time you will build a nice collection and a good parts inventory with very little of your own cash invested.

    I see so many people buying $2500 to $4000 machines as their first machine and then making the hobby into a money pit. If you start with cheap & simple machines - learn a little - flip a few for a little profit - two or three years down the road you can buy a nice $2500 machine with the profits from your efforts and by then you will be very good at fixing your machines when they break. To me this is the smart way to enjoy the hobby.

    #15 5 years ago

    is the question:

    - should you "restore" one?

    or

    - should you buy a non-working one, get it running, clean it up and play it?

    if the question is the latter, yea, go for it!
    if the question is the former, not until you've done the latter... maybe even a couple times...

    two reasons why:

    - there's a learning curve, and biting off more than you might be able to chew might get discouraging...
    - it will give you a bit of time in the hobby, and give you the answers to many of the questions that people have posed in other posts...

    you can also be in the game cheaper/easier by not attempting a restore... time (and expense) go up exponentionally to get a machine into a "restored" condition... especially if you aren't starting with a machine that is pretty nice to begin with...

    edit: i started with a "dead" em... it is not restored, but it sure does play well...

    #16 5 years ago

    Awesome hobby for someone like you.. I am also of the "buy cheap, fix-it-up" persuasion and picked up a 1980 Firepower a year and 2 months ago. I had no idea really what I was looking at or doing as far as pins go. Picked it up for $300 thinking I would tear it apart and re-purpose it on a "new" build. I ended up restoring it from ground up instead and I have a ton of $$ into it now in new parts and all the supplies I accumulated. I was thinking a couple months and it has turned into a year and a couple months. (albeit you really do choose how much you want to "restore it"). All said and done when I finish it up hopefully in the next couple weeks, I'd never be able to sell it to make any money but it should look damn nice next to my other pins I've picked up since being swallowed up down the pin rabbit hole.

    The only issue I see is that if you really start to get into the hobby, not only is it a money hole -- the older pins that you can pick up at reasonable prices (1980's) don't tend to hold as much appeal over time as many of the more expensive and new pins. If money isn't tight and you're just looking for something fun to do in your spare time -- totally go for it. As mentioned, Vid's guide is Awesome. And spend a LOT of time on RGP and here looking at other restores and resources for parts, tips and tricks, etc. And DO get a pin that at least has the GI lights come up when you flip the switch. Better yet, get one that essentially runs but needs lots of work otherwise. Electronic issues & soldering on PCB's can be a bitch.. especially if you don't have any exp. with them. (of course SOMETIMES it IS just a "blown fuse" or a couple blown transistors.. but not too often)

    Also expect it to start to drive your significant other a little crazy unless they love tinkering too.. all that time in the basement.. all the time on forums.. the obsessive searches for another decently-priced pin.

    #17 5 years ago

    Get an EM for $100-200 and fix it. Wouldn't try SS rehab right out of the box.

    #18 5 years ago

    You can go nuts on a cheap Em fixing it up and still be well under 1K.

    #19 5 years ago
    Quoted from polyacanthus:

    But what pitfalls do I need to look out for? Are there certain models or issues that just aren't fixable or worth fixing, or are there better brands or models for a beginner to get into?

    Good questions. You will likely get better answers if we know weather you are interested in electro-mechanical (EM - non-computer controlled) games or if you are interested in solid state (SS - computer controlled) games. Rule of thumb pre-1978+/- is EM, newer is SS.

    #20 5 years ago

    stick to early solid state, single level (easier to shop). Also look to see which ones have the most replacement parts, especially boards (just in case you have an issue you can't fix).

    #21 5 years ago

    Do you remember the games you use to play? Look for something that from your past because it will be twice as rewarding once its fixed it up. I would also look for a working project game to ease yourself into it, because one will quickly become 2 and so on and you will have pinball machines in your dinning room instead of dinning room table.

    Welcome to the hobby.

    #22 5 years ago

    It sounds like you are going to do it out of the love of it, not the profit. So in that case I would find one you loved and go from there. It is expensive, it can be like rebuilding a car one part at a time, you'll pay 2x what its worth as a whole piece, but rebuilding it yourself is pretty rewarding

    #23 5 years ago
    Quoted from Wickerman2:

    Get an EM for $100-200 and fix it. Wouldn't try SS rehab right out of the box.

    EMs can be just as complicated and frustrating as early solid state machines. I wouldn't say one is easier than the other.

    But, for someone who is more mechanically inclined, an EM system might make more sense. To someone who is more familiar with electronics, a solid state machine might make more sense.

    #24 5 years ago

    I would just go ahead and jump on in. The water is fine.

    No seriously though. If you enjoy tinkering, have a common knowledge of electronics, can read lots of threads and ask other pinsiders for help you should be ok. As far as financially? You will almost never come out ahead looking for specific titles. But whatever deals come before you. I always at least make sure it is something I can resell too so that I will have cash to buy the next one.

    Good luck

    #25 5 years ago

    Pick the right first machine, you don't want a non-working machine where most of the replacement parts are unobtanium. And it's not just cleaning and tweaking, in many cases you have to replace parts, plastics and rubbers.

    And start with getting a machine work in playable condition, restoration should come later

    Oh, and first rule of fixing. Take pictures, lots of pictures. Putting pins back together can be hard without good documentation (and there are thousands of parts)

    #26 5 years ago

    As a newb, I would recommend mechanical and light cosmetic restorations (replacing broken plastics).

    Unless you have experience from other parts of your life, DO NOT attempt playfield art restoration and clear coating. While you might have great success, you might also have a great failure, which would immediately devalue the game. I would rather own a game with playfield wear, than a game with bad touch ups and a horrible clear coat job.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Best regards,

    Tom

    #27 5 years ago

    Thanks for the encouragement and insight. I did incorrectly use the term "restore", to be clear I wouldn't be looking for a full restoration candidate right off the bat- more like something that works but needs some maintenance. I'm assuming rubbers, lighting, targets, that sort of thing should be fairly readily available... Where's a good place to start looking for parts like this?

    As for the money part, I've been involved in high power rocketry where you buy expensive motors and literally set fire to them- so pins have to be more reasonable than that, right?

    #28 5 years ago

    Www.pinballlife.com
    -i like how you can search by the manual's part number for rubbers and make sure u are getting the correct ones.
    -they also have a ton of other stuff too, lamp sockets, game specific parts, etc.

    Www.cointaker.com
    -this is where ive gotten all my LEDs so far. But there are other vendors too.

    Www.pinbits.com
    www.marcospecialties.com
    www.greatplainselectronics.com

    And dont forget pinside.com. Lots of peeps here will help answer your questions. Have helped me many times for sure. Also it feels really good to be able to pass that back and help out someone else too!

    #29 5 years ago

    Go for it! Its a great hobby. I started the same way and now I have almost 40. Pick your first title carefully, make sure its a good game. A boring game is no fun and would be disappointing after you invest your time. EMs are a good start, theres lots of info on the web. I taught myself the same way after buying a game and having to depend on repair guys to fix stuff, which became costly and stupidly embarrassing after a few calls. Now I enjoy fixing them almost more than playing.........

    Rob

    #30 5 years ago
    Quoted from polyacanthus:

    Thanks for the encouragement and insight. I did incorrectly use the term "restore", to be clear I wouldn't be looking for a full restoration candidate right off the bat- more like something that works but needs some maintenance. I'm assuming rubbers, lighting, targets, that sort of thing should be fairly readily available... Where's a good place to start looking for parts like this?
    As for the money part, I've been involved in high power rocketry where you buy expensive motors and literally set fire to them- so pins have to be more reasonable than that, right?

    Sounds a lot like what I do to machines. I call it "restore to operation". Basically, making everything work and work well, getting the machine to be complete if it is missing any parts, and making cosmetic improvements. Often this is over a period of time, and has a lot to do with what I feel like working on, maybe just what is bugging me about a machine's cosmetics that I would like to address at that moment in time.

    There's a few popular distributors of parts out there. I use Marco Specialties a lot, I have also used Pinball Resource, Big Daddy, GPE, Cointaker and a few others. Oddball stuff that you can't find anywhere else, you can ask about here or search for on EBay and perhaps get lucky.

    If you have "money to burn" - so to speak, that can certainly help. Unfortunately I have had to pass on some more expensive parts, as some of the more rare stuff can command some big prices.

    #31 5 years ago

    Jump in feet first with guns blazing, have fun.

    #32 5 years ago

    Just dive right in. Just make sure you're getting a decent deal on the game. And make sure it's a game you want.
    Bargain projects are getting harder to find.

    #33 5 years ago
    Quoted from polyacanthus:

    Thanks for the encouragement and insight. I did incorrectly use the term "restore", to be clear I wouldn't be looking for a full restoration candidate right off the bat- more like something that works but needs some maintenance. I'm assuming rubbers, lighting, targets, that sort of thing should be fairly readily available... Where's a good place to start looking for parts like this?
    As for the money part, I've been involved in high power rocketry where you buy expensive motors and literally set fire to them- so pins have to be more reasonable than that, right?

    Welcome!

    Seems like you are ready to take the plunge

    Everyone is forgetting one big issue ......
    The space for number two, three, four etc.

    They NEED company, but you soon find out

    #34 5 years ago
    Quoted from polyacanthus:

    Thanks for the encouragement and insight. I did incorrectly use the term "restore", to be clear I wouldn't be looking for a full restoration candidate right off the bat- more like something that works but needs some maintenance. I'm assuming rubbers, lighting, targets, that sort of thing should be fairly readily available... Where's a good place to start looking for parts like this?
    As for the money part, I've been involved in high power rocketry where you buy expensive motors and literally set fire to them- so pins have to be more reasonable than that, right?

    You sound like you're going to enter the hobby in a good way. You are going to love it. I would look for a beater of a routed machine that is a decent title in the top 100 with dirty/damaged playfield parts. You will have some work making it look and play good again, but it's better to learn by fixing one thing at a time than something you can't play. And at the end of it having a machine with depth is a lot more fun than an old EM

    #35 5 years ago

    Why not if you want to do the work and can afford it. I wouldn't waste time on a pin that you don't really like just because it is cheap. That's no fun.

    #36 5 years ago
    Quoted from YKpinballer:

    And at the end of it having a machine with depth is a lot more fun than an old EM

    I think there's a thread somewhere that would dispute that point.

    #37 5 years ago
    Quoted from Wickerman2:

    I think there's a thread somewhere that would dispute that point.

    I probably drained it :p

    #38 5 years ago

    It looks like a lot of wearable parts and mechanical parts like flippers are widely available for most em's since the 70s. But I've seen some 60s bally machines with a different kind of target. Anything I should know about these or are they just as serviceable?

    #39 5 years ago
    Quoted from polyacanthus:

    Anything I should know about these or are they just as serviceable?

    Pbresource should have just about anything you need

    #40 5 years ago

    I was a newb 2.5 years ago when I got into the hobby. Last year I did a full restore and playfield swap (had some help, but did a lot myself). It takes patience and the ability to ask questions. You'll make mistakes. It can stress you out. But I remember the first time I rebuilt flippers. It was incredibly satisfying to take something I didn't understand apart, and rebuild.

    #41 5 years ago

    Waddle Jr Jr in oh has a Casanova em up for sale if that's something you are looking for

    #42 5 years ago

    I would suggest, if your first game is going to be an EM, you get either a Williams, Bally or Gottlieb. Replacement parts for these are readily available. If you found a Chicago Coin that was mostly working, and can be had for cheap - you could go for that too.

    One of my first mistakes early on in my hobby, was acquiring an Allied Leisure pinball that had more wrong with it than I realized. The damaged circuit boards were way beyond my skill set, and parts are nearly impossible to find.

    #43 5 years ago

    https://pinside.com/pinball/forum/topic/fs-casanova-em-project-250 there's the link for the Casanova. Hard to do on my phone but if you search Casanova it'll probably come up.

    #44 5 years ago

    Amkoepfer thanks that looks really nice, a little further than I want to go though ATM.

    #45 5 years ago

    If a EM game hasn't been used in some time are there any precautions I should take or things to check before firing it up to see what works? I'm aware of the battery issues with the SS games, didn't know if there was anything similar with EMs.

    #46 5 years ago

    I like the old classic early Bally SS machines and learned how to work on them. They are a good way to start. If you are getting into the hobby,you'll have alot of tinkering and tweaking to keep them 100%. Totally worth it. Lots of good info online.......good luck

    #47 5 years ago

    pitfalls.. buying a machine for 800, spending 500 on fixing it to realise its sale price is now 850...

    #48 5 years ago
    Quoted from polyacanthus:

    If a EM game hasn't been used in some time are there any precautions I should take or things to check before firing it up to see what works? I'm aware of the battery issues with the SS games, didn't know if there was anything similar with EMs.

    The biggest problem I've seen is dry-rotted power cords. Definite potential for spark / shock. The next concern if a coil locks on when you power up. It can get hot and burn up. Not too much danger of fire, but would destroy the coil if left on for long.

    It's prudent to lift the playfield and carefully look at the control board on the bottom of the cabinet. Sometimes screws / springs / clips / etc, fall off the bottom of the playfield and can get caught in the relays and switches.

    If the cord is ok, and nothing looks out of place try powering it up. It's common to hear a buzzing from the area of the coin door, so don't be alarmed. Remember it's usually the left flipper button that switches on the General Illumination (GI). Also, check the ball/balls. If they are rusty, or pitted do not try playing a game with them. They will quickly tear up the playfield.

    -dave

    #49 5 years ago
    Quoted from polyacanthus:

    If a EM game hasn't been used in some time are there any precautions I should take or things to check before firing it up to see what works?

    Eyeball it...power cord, check the relays--all the insides just to see if there's anything that looks WAY obvious out of place....I plug them in right away and have had no issues. If it's not doing anything I give the start relay a try just to see whats what. I know others have some checklist of things to go through. I am too excited to see what's working. I played several games on one before I noticed the power cord was hanging literally by ONE strand of copper(!?)...it suddenly shot some sparks and started smoking which clued me in that the power cord was shot (guess that would qualify as an issue). No harm done. So now I at least check the power cord

    #50 5 years ago
    Quoted from songofsixpence:

    Definite potential for spark / shock.

    lol

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