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This is an Introduction to pinball maintenance and simple repairs for new pinball machine owners. There are many simple repairs and checks that any pinball owner can do without any expertise. If you are a new owner or thinking about purchasing a pinball machine, then this site on pinball repair tips is for you.
Pinball machines contain potentially lethal voltage. Dangerous voltage may remain for a period even after it is unplugged. Prior to opening a pinball machine, be certain to unplug it, then turn it on to insure that it was actually unplugged. It is recommended that the machine be allowed to sit several minutes to allow any remaining power to dissipate. Repair should be left to properly trained personnel. If you are not qualified, you should not work on a pinball machine.
Solvents such as isopropyl alcohol are flammable and should be used only in a well ventilated area. Do not operate the pinball machine until the vapor has dissipated. Follow all the warnings on the container.
Proceed at your own risk!
Pinball machine can be divided into two general areas, the playfield and the backbox. There are also two general categories of pinball machines, solid state ( SS ) and electro-mechanical ( EM ) machines. SS machines have digital displays that power up when the machine is turned on. EM machines use mechanical reels that spin to display the score.
Maintenance of SS and EM playfields are similar. However, the similarity ends there. EM machines use relays, motors and switches to run the game. SS machines rely on electronic circuit boards (PCB) to control the game.
The first step is to identify your pinball machine type and model. An excellent resource is the Internet Pinball Database. Look up your pinball machine on this database to determine what type it is. Find out the manufacturer, the year, and the type: Solid State Electronic (SS) or Electro-mechanica (EM). If your machine is solid state, also note the MPU type. Keep this information handy for dealing with parts suppliers and repair people.
It is always helpful to have the operating and repair manuals. For older machines, this may be a single manual. For later machines, usually two or even three manuals may be needed. These manuals can usually be purchased at Steve Young's The Pinball Resource. Marco Specialties. or Mayfair Amusements. If your machine was manufactured by Stern, Sega or Data East, the manuals may be available from Stern Pinball, Inc .
Before Turning it On!
If you are buying a used game, the chances are pretty good that a wrong fuse was installed at some point. If it is large difference, then a problem could cause severe damage to your new pinball machine or even a fire. It is very important to check that the proper values are installed. For more information on locating the fuses, see "Fuse locations ".
Regular maintenance of a pinball machine can keep it running smoothly and maintain its resale value. Prior to starting, see the Caution above. The supplies suggested below are available from companies that supply pinball parts.
Most maintenance can be accomplished with supplies found in local stores. Some materials may have to be ordered from pinball parts suppliers. The following parts may be needed (will vary depending on the machine):
Isopropyl alcohol (91%). Do not use rubbing alcohol.
Screwdriver (Phillips and standard).
Allen wrench set.
400 grit sandpaper or flexstone (switch cleaning).
Nut driver set.
Multimeter / DVM (volt ohm meter).
Novus #2 or #3 cleaner .
Treewax or Meguiar's Carnauba wax (or Optimum Car Wax®.)
Light bulbs - type varies depending on the pinball machine.
Digital Probe (for circuit board repair, this is nice to have for the more sophisticated repair person).
The pinballs wear, get chipped and can contribute significantly to the playfield wear. It is recommended that pinballs be replaced regularly. New pinballs are inexpensive and can be obtained from the parts suppliers listed below. Don't save a few dollars and ruin a playfield.
The condition of the playfield can determine the resale value of a machine. Additionally, dirt on the playfield can slow the play down. As an owner, a playfield is easy to maintain.
If you find it necessary to tilt up the playfield, it is recommended that you remove the pinball(s) first. Otherwise, raising the playfield may eject the pinball, which could damage the playfield or backglass. Removing the pinball can be simple on single ball machines or tricky on multiball games. For single pinball games, you may be able to reach in and remove the ball, or manually press the solenoid ball eject mechanism. For complex SS games, it may be easier to enter the service menu to eject the balls. Consult the repair or operating manual for the specific procedure.
The first step is to clean the playfield. Novus #2 is the recommended cleaner. Follow the instructions on the containers. On clearcoated playfields, use this sparingly since these cleaners are mild abrasives and remove some of the coating.
Plastic ramps can be cleaned with Novus plastic polish - Novus #1. Another alternative for plastic is Plexus Plastic Cleaner.
The playfield should be waxed regularly. This will help prevent wear and make the game play faster.
There are as many opinions about what wax to use as there are waxes. For many, the safest choice is a real wax, a hard or paste wax, such as Treewax and Meguiar's Carnauba wax are among those recommended.
Others recommend Optimum Car Wax® which is a synthetic. While this could be a superior product to Carnauba, there is less experience among pinball user with synthetic waxes.
Do not use a wax / cleaner as it contains abrasives. Do not get the liquid variety as it contains solvents and water.
Purchase a soft cloth like a microfiber towel to reduce surface scratches. A t-shirt works but can leave surface scratches that could be visible in a newer clearcoated playfield.
For a complete guide to playfield cleaning and restoration, see the links at the end of this page.
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