Owning a Pinball Machine 101 – Items To Have On Hand
So, you are thinking of owning a pinball machine. That’s great and of course, the first step to actually owning a pinball machine. A common feeling is one of dread when you look in the back box of one of them, or under the playfield. All those flashing lights, moving parts and… well at first you aren’t even sure what half of those things are. Owning a pinball machine will mean that things will go wrong. It will happen. However through these series of articles, I hope to share my knowledge (and I am sure that many more will chip in) on owning a pinball machine. So for a start, we will cover some basics. In this article, we will look at items you should have on hand to maintain your pinball machine. As always, if you have any comments or different techniques, please leave them below.
More in the Pinball 101 Series
A Small Stash to Have When Owning a Pinball
As with any hobby, having the right tools and the right stash of paraphernalia will certainly come in handy. Some of the items may seem pricey when looked at in isolation, but let’s be honest, you have probably just spent many hundreds, if not thousands on owning a pinball machine. A little more on keeping it tip top isn’t going to break the bank now is it. Invariably, you will start off with the basics and before long have a coil from a 1967 game that you have never owned, somehow. That’s just the way it goes, but lets start off with what I think are the basics, we all should have.
For the cleaning and waxing of a playfield, and the items needed there, you can review my article on cleaning and waxing a pinball playfield. I have broken this article down into tools, and perishables.
What better place to start than tools right, yeah! Tools are cool, everyone loves tools, especially the ones that you have absolutely no use for apart from that one specific task, well there’s some of those in pinball, but also, mainly – just some regular ones you may or may not already have.
Ok. Ok. I get it. These should be a standard part of everyone’s gear, but you will need them. I cannot think of many situations where you need a flat head for top side of the playfield. You will need a phillips head and generally a few sizes to be safe. This could be for adjusting gates, or removing toys to get to rubbers etc. Sets are readily and cheaply available on Amazon, if you don’t have any. As a 101, you shouldn’t need to remove anything on the underside, but some use a flat head, but also have options on sockets too, which funnily enough…
So again, something you may have, but you will need a socket set. Socket sets come in metric (mm) and imperial (inches). As most of these games have been manufactured either in the USA, or whilst the EU (Zaccaria) whilst people used imperial. You will need an imperial set. Some things can be fiddly to get to, so you can get a deeper set and an extension tool.
Leaf Switch Adjuster
We are now into the this is solely for a pinball machine territory and it’s superb. A leaf switch adjuster, as pictured, is a small device made to. Well. Adjust leaf switches. The main ones you will probably have to do will be your slingshot switches, but in pinball, any can stop functioning. I will upload a video in the near future, but all you have to do is adjust the two contacts so they are tight enough to connect easily when the ball makes contact, whilst ensuring they aren’t constantly closed. At this point, I will usually take an ear bud and some isopropyl alchohol and just clean the contact too, again, something I will show in the video.
Pinball Mania sell a leaf switch adjuster for £8.95, remember you will need to pay postage on top of that too.
You will probably have to clean some switches, a mechanical item, or even a light socket along the way. Pinballs get covered in general dust as well as the carbon dust that builds up from the coils. On top of that you have the wax that will potentially turn that into a little paste (that’s not the best description, but it certainly does stick).
The great thing about Isopropyl Alcohol is that it evaporates very quickly. That means it will clean, but doesn’t take an age or leave a residue before you can move on. It doesn’t leave any water or impurities behind that will corrode the switches or electronics. I buy mine from Amazon, as it is nice and easy to have delivered and a brand I have used before. You get 500ml for £6.99.
Fuses… How on earth could I forget fuses? Well trust me, I did. Thanks to a few members of www.pinballinfo.com who pointed this out to me. You will probably want to have some fuses in stock too. To know which fuses you will need, I would check your manual. If you don’t have one, a quick google will bring that up for you. There are two size of fuses, 1 1/4 inch and 20mm fuses used in pinball. On top of the size, there are two types, fast blow and slow blow.
Games will have a fuse list in the manual, as pictured below, check the size of the fuses for your game and order some up of the size you need. When buying a game, it is worth checking fuses if not bought from a reputable collector. Over rating fuses (putting a higher amp rating in than recommended) can lead to serious issues. A good source again of pinball fuses is Pinball Mania, you will need to select your size and amps required.
To support with reading, the fuse located in F501 is a T (this means time delayed or slow blow) 2.5 amp – 250V fuse.
With lamps, there are two types that you can have in your machine. I won’t get into the benefits or negatives of each kind, and as a 101, will keep it very simple. If you are going to be simply replacing what you have, match what is already in there. The two available types are incandescent or LED. There is nothing more annoying than a lamp being out and you missing an Extra Ball or Jackpot shot as you didn’t realise it was lit.
Lamps come in many variations, but you will most likely need one of three types. These being; bayonet (ones that turn in a socket), wedge (ones that slide into the socket) and flashers (twist in but larger and flash).
The classic style, these heat a filament under an atmospheric gas to produce a light. The cheapest supplier I have found for these is Pinball Mania 10 bayonet lamps for £1.60, 10 wedge lamps for £1.60 and 10 flashlamps for £4.50.
For LED lamps, you will want to head on over to Pinball Heaven, each bayonet lamp is available from 55p – there are a choice of colours, but to keep it simple to begin with, I would stick to white. There are some horror pictures where people have gone… creative with LED’s to get a certain effect. Wedge LED’s start at 49p and flashers at £2.20 each.
Again, having a rubber break on a machine is very annoying if you haven’t got a spare. If you are shopping a machine, you can buy a kit to completely re-rubber the entire playfield. This is about what to have, so I recommend having stock of three types.
The flipper should get the most ware on any part of the machine – so the rubbers will probably wear out the fastest. Having a couple (or more depending on your game, i.e. does it have 3 flippers?) is always a good way to go. Don’t skimp and replace them individually, repair as sets. Think of it like replacing tires, you wouldn’t want varying wear on those. You don’t want varying wear on these. It will just make the game feel… weird.
The cheapest standard flipper rubbers I can find is at Pinball Mania, who sell standard flipper rubbers at 55p each. Pinball Mania also offer Super Bands silicone flipper rubbers at £1.75 each. I use these on my Walking Dead, but they do feel a lot different to standard flipper rubbers – so try them out, but be prepared they aren’t for everyone. It is quite an emotive subject, some people absolutely swearing that they are the best thing since sliced bread. Others who cannot stand them. Honestly, I am indifferent but, they do seem to wear a lot better and last longer.
Post rubbers will protect a metal post that will usually be located both sides of a shot, to define its size. Having the metal post will allow plastics or other items to be secured over or around the shot. An example might be a gate that with a switch to let the machine know the shot has been made. To protect this, as well as give some response to the missed shot it will have a rubber over it. In high use areas these will wear and the response will feel lacking, or “dead”. Replacing these is a good idea.
Post rubbers generally come in two sizes, if you have a Sega or Data East game you will be looking for the 1-1/16th size, which is cheapest at Pinball Mania at just 50p per sleeve. If you have most other machines, you will be looking at a 7/8th inch sleeve, which is again just 50p each at pinball mania.
If you set your slings tight, they will get a lot of use. The slings create that dangerous side to side action you get in games and add a lot of randomness. Or, in my case, a lot of power outlanes. Again, as with the above rubber parts, you will want to replace these when they become worn. As a rule of thumb, these rubbers are 2 1/2 inches, however, you may want to check in your games manual. The cheapest I can find once again on these in Pinball Mania, which sell black 2 1/2 inch rubber rings for 59p each.
As discussed before, having a pinball machine does require a little bit of love and attention every now and again. Chances are, these tools and consumables won’t solve every issue that you may come up against, but it will certainly help. As always, if you have any hints, tips, or suggestions. Please comment below.