From time to time I get asked to "shop out" a pinball machine for someone. There are literally thousands of pinball machines out there that are suffering from neglect and would otherwise be amazing games to play if someone would just give them a little love.
What does it mean to "shop out" a game? Well that depends on who you ask but I think most people agree that in general this means making sure the game is fully working, cleaning the playfield, replacing all the rubber and burned out lights and giving it a good once over.
At Flipperspiel Wunderland, when we refurbish a game in this manner it means stripping it down to the playfield by removing all the playfield posts, rubbers, ramps, plastics and any above playfield mechanical components. Once the game is nekkid, we then give the playfield a good cleaning, waxing and repair any stripped out screw holes discovered while disassembling the machine. All the removed parts are then cleaned and polished. Replacements are ordered (if available) for any broken parts discovered and if necessary repairs are made. Once everything is ready for reinstallation the posts go back on as well as new rubber and new lamps or LEDs. Usually you find a few screws that are the wrong type or size and these are replaced with new ones of the correct function.
Once the game looks great it is then time for the major assemblies to be gone through and rebuilt as needed. Of course the parts that take the most abuse and absolutely must be rebuilt are the flippers. These coils are the most worn, the end of stroke switches are toast, and the flippers themselves are often cracked or chipped. New coil stops, plungers, and plunger links will ensure that the flippers will have the correct amount of travel and no loose play. Pop bumpers are next, at the very least these need a good cleaning and switch adjustment but often the pop bumper skirts are chipped and will need to be replaced to keep the action good. Slingshot kickers require a small drop of oil at the hinge and new coil sleeves to maintain good action. These switches are also often in need of adjustment.
Often ignored is the plunger. I keep a special box with all my plunger rebuild parts ready to go to make replacement of these parts as easy as possible. Common failures are broken (or just plain ugly) barrel springs, incorrect sized or worn out shooter springs, smashed rod tips that mushroom out and tear up plunger rubbers if not repaired, and the plunger sleeve is often dirty or worn. These parts are not expensive and make a world of difference if replaced. Sometimes the incorrect rod is installed too which can hang up on the playfield when lifting it out for maintenance and cause other problems. We check the rod to make sure it is not bent and polish it up to make it operate smoothly.
Once the mechanical parts are working well and the playfield is clean then we go through the electronics and look for burned connectors, cold solder joints, toasted transistors or overheated resistors and make repairs as necessary. While in the backbox it is important to remember to change the bulbs here too! Finally, new pinballs are installed. This whole process usually takes a minimum of 8 hours work when done correctly depending on the amount of neglect we are trying to undo.
After all these things are done we will have a game that plays great and looks good. Even games that have large blemishes from heavy wear and tear can be made to look and play good again. In fact once these things are done to the machine, the blemishes that once seemed impossible to ignore seem to disappear and become far less noticeable.
Here are some pictures of a Bally Eight Ball Deluxe we have been working on for a client. Note the shine that can still be found on a worn playfield. See what a difference between the old and rebuilt flipper mechanism and check out that shine on the rebuilt shooter rod. From stiff and stubborn to loose and bouncy. With regular cleanings and maintenance this game will play fast and fun for years to come.
Don't neglect your machines! Invest the time to clean them keep them in top shape and you will enjoy them all the more. If you have any questions, comments or tips about cleaning pinball machines please share them in the comments below.