The following section details all of the steps that we typically perform when doing a total machine restoration. As you will see, we do everything most other people do, plus some extra stuff that many people don't.
Not everything on the list will apply to every game. Mechanical games, for example, will have no circuit boards. We can do everything on the list to your game or only do as much as you want. It's a pretty extensive list. Print it out and read it on the beach this summer!
Click on any of the pictures to enlarge.
Functional Check. First things first. There's no point in cleaning and polishing a game that doesn't work properly, so we run the game through all of it's diagnostic tests. We will take note of and repair any flipper that doesn't flip, pop bumper that doesn't pop, switch that doesn't switch and feature lamp that doesn't light. Any solenoids that aren't working silky smooth will get re-built. Any flippers not operating at full potential will be re-built as well. This of course is a simplification of what we do. There is no end to the weird stuff we find going on under the playfield from hacked wiring harnesses to completely missing assemblies. Our favorite is the prior game technician who repaired everything with finish nails, drywall screws and a can of WD-40!
Power Cord Inspection. We will inspect and repair or replace the power cord. Many games have sat for so long that the power cord is rotting away inside. Many power cords are mishandled and get the insulation torn away, leaving exposed wiring. One of the most popular operator "modifications" is to rip the grounding pin off of the plug to make it fit into a non-grounded outlet. This is a safety issue that really should be rectified.
Fuse Inspection. We will examine all of the fuses in the game to ensure they are of proper type and value. Fuses are a very important part of a pinball machine. They are a safety mechanism that prevents a machine from harming itself and most importantly, YOU and your home and family. Many times, a previous owner will replace a fuse that keeps blowing with a fuse that is WAY overrated for that circuit, like putting a 30 amp fuse in a 1/4 amp circuit. If a properly rated fuse keeps blowing, there is something wrong with the games wiring, circuit boards or power supply. Even worse, sometimes a person will jam a screw, nail or paperclip into the fuse holder. Any of the above conditions must be rectified or the game can go up in flames!
Safety Ground Inspection. We will inspect all of the cabinet grounding straps. There are lots of metal pieces on the outside of the game like the coin door, side rails, legs, trim pieces, etc. All of these parts are required to be tied to a common ground to prevent the player from getting shocked while playing should there happen to be a short-circuit in the machine. If the ground straps are in place and properly connected, the electricity will flow through the ground pin on the game plug (if it wasn't cut off, see above!) instead of through the pinball player. Note that really old pinball machines did not have such safety devices just like really old houses don't have grounded outlets. No wonder our life expectancy has risen over the years!
Battery Check. We will check for battery damage and install a new battery or batteries. All games have batteries of some sort to hold high scores and game settings while the game is turned off. These batteries have caused the death of many games due to the fact that most if not all batteries eventually leak caustic substances when not changed regularly. This leakage can cause major damage to a games circuit boards, connectors and wiring harness. Battery corrosion is like rust in an old car. It will spread and spread and spread until it consumes the whole machine. Kind of like "The Blob". Some games have standard "AA" batteries, some use ni-cad or lithium based batteries. "AA" batteries are user-serviceable. Everyone knows how to change a battery. Ni-cad and lithium batteries are not so user friendly because you need to get out the old soldering iron to replace them. You do know how to solder a circuit board, don't you? Trivia: "The Blob", filmed in 1958 starring Steve McQueen was filmed right here in downtown Phoenixville, Pa!
Electronics Inspection. We will examine all of the circuit board connectors in the game. Having your connectors in good condition is critical to having a machine operate reliably for years to come. This is especially true on early digital games. Often, games will develop intermittent problems due to bad interconnects on the circuit boards. We generally recommend re-flowing the solder on all of the connector pins as a precaution. In cases of games with battery damage, we will re-pin all of the affected connectors. We will also re-build any connectors that have become burned or tarnished. There's nothing worse than having a nicely restored game that only works when it feels like it.
External Cleansing. It's clean-up time! Next, we will clean all external surfaces of the game. Some of these games have sat in damp and dusty warehouses for many years. I certainly wouldn't want all of that dirt in my home and I'm sure you don't want it in yours. Lots of times the cabinets are discolored due to all those years of cigarette smoke getting blown all over them while the game was earning money "on location". We do our best to get the games as clean as humanly possible!
Side Rail Clean Up. We clean and polish the side rails. These are the metal moldings that hold the playfield glass in place. Often, these will develop rust spots and discoloration or become stained over the years. In more severe cases of rust or physical damage (dents) we will refinish or replace the rails entirely.
Legs, Legs, Legs. We clean and polish the legs. Most games have at least some level of rust on the legs. We do our best to clean and "de-rustify" the original game legs. In more extreme cases, or upon request, we will install brand new legs. We will also install new leg bolts and levelers (feet) on the legs. Levelers are always filthy and rusted. Who needs rust stains on their nice floors? New levelers also make it easy to level the game just right in the case of uneven floors.
Cabinet Tune-Up. We will correct any cabinet damage and perform any necessary touch-ups. The outer cabinet is the first thing you see when you walk up to a game and we want it to look the best. There is a limit to what can be done with severely damaged cabinets. There is no limit to the amount of damage that "Hugo", the operator can inflict on his own games. We can only do so much in the cases of insect infestation, water damage or severely mishandled games, but we will do our best to make the game look presentable even in the worst cases. Cabinets can also be re-stenciled, or for newer games the screened cabinet artwork decals can be replaced if available.
Button Sanitization. We will clean and sterilize or replace all of the cabinet buttons. From the start button to the coin
rejecters to the flippers, these buttons are any players primary interface to the game. Unfortunately many of the games past players weren't the most savory of characters. Here are some examples: the guy that liked to eat pizza and get cheese all over the buttons, the auto mechanic who wound down at the end of the day with a cold one and some pinball who also forgot to wash the motor oil off of his hands, or my favorite guy... the booger picker. Boy if those buttons could talk!
Coin Door Clean Up. We will refurbish the front coin door. The coin door of a game can often take much abuse over the years. From getting kicked or hit to having beverages spilled on it to being broken apart by vandals, the front door of a game can have a hard life. We will disassemble the door and clean it to the best of our ability. If it's a stainless door, we will remove any rust spots and polish the front. For painted doors, we will generally refinish the door. In more severe cases, the entire door can be replaced. We'll even clean up or replace the coin mechanisms if you want to charge your friends and family to play! A new lock and coin door lamps will be installed as well.
Internal Cleansing. We thoroughly clean out the inside of the head and lower cabinet. The heads are always full of dust, dirt and spider webs. We even clean off the circuit boards! The lower cabinet is often used as a trash bin when the game is on location as it is a convenient place to throw bad light bulbs, blown fuses, broken rubber pieces or the half of the operators ham sandwich that he didn't want to finish. Yummy!
I Can See Clearly Now. We clean the playfield glass front and back and scrape off any "foreign substances". All playfield glass has some degree of nicks and scrapes, but if the glass is badly damaged we will install a new piece of crystal clear tempered glass. We also clean out the glass channels that hold the glass in place as they are typically full of dried out soda pop and beer, making the glass very difficult to remove. I often wonder how many sneezes a glass has absorbed.
Lockdown Tune-Up. We clean and polish the lockdown bar and install a fresh "beer seal". The lockdown bar generally has some surface rust and imperfections that need to be addressed and the rubber seal underneath is typically rotted away or is often permanently stuck to the playfield glass from absorbing one too many beverages.
Shooter Shootout. We will clean and rebuild the shooter assembly. That ball shooter has seen many a pull in it's lifetime, we think it deserves a new set of springs, rubber tip and nylon sleeve, don't you? The outside spring is always smashed and rusty and the inside spring is not so spring-ee. After a shooter tune-up, it'll work as smooth as silk. It's only right!
Backglass Restoration. We clean and inspect the painted backglass or translite. A clean backglass will allow the best transfer of light and make the game look bright and colorful. If your game has a translite which is a plastic sheet with the artwork sandwiched against a piece of clear glass, we will separate the artwork from the glass and clean both pieces front and back. If your game has a painted glass, we take great care in cleaning the front and back sides of the glass. In some cases the back side cannot and should not be cleaned due to flaking paint issues. We don't want to make it any worse than it already is. If a painted glass has flaking, lifting or peeling problems, we will spray a clear coating on the back of the glass. We can also do backglass or translite touch-ups if you would like. All backglass channels and lift trim are also cleaned and polished.
Light Board Lamp-Up. We clean the front and back sides of the light board and replace any lamps that are burned out or discolored. The light board is the board that holds all of the lamps that shine through the backglass and is also where the game displays are usually mounted. A clean and bright white lamp board will provide the best transference of light through the backglass.
Score Display Inspection. We clean and inspect the game displays. Properly functioning displays are a very important part of a pinball machine as it's the only way the game can convey information to the player. If it's a mechanical game, we clean the score reels and ensure proper operation. For older electronic games, we make sure that all digits and segments are working and bright in the numeric or alpha-numeric glasses. For newer electronic games, we make sure that all columns and rows are working and bright on the large dot-matrix display glass. Burned out or non-functional display glass will be repaired or replaced.
Here's To Your Playfield. Bottoms Up! Next, we start on the playfield by cleaning the part you never see, the bottom. Why clean the bottom, you ask? Good question, and I'll tell you why! On newer games, there are any number of tunnels, scoops or under-playfield passages that the ball will traverse. These parts of the game get infested with the blackest of black dirt because almost no one ever cleans them! If you don't clean these areas of the game, the ball will simply pick up the dirt and carry it right back onto the cleaned upper playfield, making it dirty within a few games.
The other important thing to clean on the bottom side of all pinball playfields is the plastic inserts that the lamps shine through. This is another area that is often neglected by others. Clean lamp inserts really make the lights pop out from the top of the playfield. We also clean or replace all of the feature lamps under the playfield.
Part Replacement. We will inspect the upper playfield for any broken or missing parts. Certain parts of a pinball playfield are commonly broken. Drop targets, stationary targets, bumper caps, lane guides, light shields, ramps and other plastic parts can really take a beating from the ball. Most common parts are still manufactured. Some game-specific parts like light shields with artwork on them can be difficult or impossible to find. We will replace any broken part on the playfield that is able to be replaced. If a suitable replacement isn't available, we will sometimes fabricate custom parts. There's nothing uglier than a playfield with a bunch of smashed, broken and mismatched parts.
Playfield Teardown. Now, we will disassemble the entire upper playfield to prepare for cleaning. The only way to properly clean a playfield is to take it apart. We remove all of the plastics, ramps, old rubber, posts, bumpers, light bulbs, aprons, etc. As you can imagine, this is a very time consuming task. We must keep track of everything that is removed and where it was removed from for hundreds of parts. Good thing I quit drinkin' last month! On modern multi-level games, the tear down, cleaning and re-assembly of the playfield alone can take a full day or more.
Playfield Touch-Ups. We will perform any necessary playfield touch-ups. Any spots of missing or chipped paint will be color-matched and touched up. Larger areas of wear that occur in common spots like at ball drops or in front of sling shots will get a protective mylar patch installed. There is a limit to how much touch-up can or should be done to a playfield. If the paint is in extremely poor condition or has unusually large sections of artwork missing, it would be best to try to find a replacement playfield.
Playfield Shimmy-Sham. We will clean and wax the playfield. We use the Novus line of plastic polishes to clean the playfield and playfield parts. It is expensive, but it is an industry standard as the best and safest thing to use on pinball machines. After cleaning every square inch of the playfield, we will apply a generous coat of automotive carnauba paste wax. After plenty of buffing, that playfield will shine like new and play like new!
Playfield Re-Assembly. We will clean all of the playfield parts and reassemble the playfield. Everything that goes back onto the game will get cleaned and polished. All of the light shields, plastic posts, metal posts, lane guides, bumper caps, flipper bats, ramps and everything else will get polished. New upper general illumination lamps and fresh rubber will also be installed at this time. It's starting to look like something now!
Balls, Balls, Balls. We will install new highly polished premium mirror-finish pinballs. New balls in a game look really fantastic and play super fast, but there is a more practical reason to replace your old balls. Used pinballs develop tiny scratches and pit marks over time. These imperfections in the ball will act like a mini-sanding disc on your playfield and cause premature playfield wear. If you play your games a lot, you should replace the ball(s) every year. It's an inexpensive way to keep your game looking and playing at it's best!
Score Card Reproduction. We will
reproduce and install new score and instruction cards with covers. The instruction cards provide the player with a bit of insight on how to play the game and what is required to win. Old instruction cards are generally dirty or yellowed and the clear plastic covers are often missing.
We often have to digitally scan your old card in and electronically
edit out any of the dirt and flaws, but it's worth the time. New score and instruction cards are a nice finishing touch on a fully restored game.
Game Configuration. We will reset the game audits and high scores and then configure the game software. After the game is restored, it's nice to be able to keep track of how much it gets played and resetting the audit log is a good way to do this. We will also reset the high score table. Who wants to know someone else's high score? You want to know YOUR high score! Newer games also have many options for configuring the rules of game play. We will get the game set back to the factory defaults and can show you how to make any changes that you want. We can also set the game for free play or make it so that coins are required to play.
Play Testing. The final step. We will play test the game numerous times and adjust any bumpers, slingshots or targets for optimal performance. Then we'll play the game some more just because it's fun. This is the part we like best!