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Thread: Routine Pinball Machine Maintenance

  1. #1
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    Routine Pinball Machine Maintenance

    Pinball machines, whether new or used, are expensive. And because they are made from so many different parts, they require routine maintenance and preventative care. Although there are some minor repairs and inspections that can be performed by the average pinball machine owner, there are many advanced repairs that only experienced pinball repairmen and women can fix. Consider the repair required and your own experience before forging into a full blown repair. You will save time and money by consulting experts before performing any repairs.

    Jon Norris, from Norris Pinball says, "A clean machine will play better and the playfield will last longer."

    1. If you are unsure of how to proceed in the repair process or lack confidence in your ability to successfully repair/fix problems, consult an expert pinball machine repair person. If you can’t find one nearby, contact a repair shop online.

    2. There are two pinball machine categories: EM (electro-mechanical) and SS (solid state), they have some important differences that will affect repair jobs. Know what you have whether you plan to do repairs yourself or you plan to have an expert help you.

    3. Always make sure you have the correct maintenance tools before you begin the repair process. Quality tools will always work better than cheap tools.

    4. All work done on your machine should be conducted in a well-lit, well-ventilated area.

    5. Always check to see if a simple solution (such as replacing a fuse) will fix the problem before tearing into a huge project. Check fuse, connectors, and grounding before replacing any other parts.

    6. When taking a pinball machine apart, form a plan to successfully put the machine back together. Some ideas for organization: label each piece as it’s taken off of the machine OR take pictures at each step of the disassembly process so you can see how all the different pieces fit together.

    7. “If you own an EM machine, the best thing to do is regularly play it. The mechanicals and relays inside the game like to be exercised. The worst thing you can do is let the machine sit for months or years unused.” - Ron from Pinball Clinic

    If you plan to move or open parts of your pinball machine, it is safest to turn it off and unplug it (unless directed otherwise).

    Why? If a live wire brushes against a screw or metal piece within the playfield, it could cause an electrical short.

    How to proceed: 1) Turn off the pinball machine, 2) Unplug the machine, 3) Flip the on switch to ensure no power is running through, 4) Wait at least five minutes for the voltage to completely dissipate.

    Moving Your Pinball Machine:

    Pinball machine parts are sensitive, so make sure to move with caution.

    Two or more people should be moving the machine.

    Keep away from water.

    Tie the machine down firmly, but not so snug that it will shatter the glass from too much pressure.

    Remove loose parts, like pinballs, before moving.

    When you’re ready to set up the machine, inspect all of the physical parts before plugging the game in. This will prevent circuit issues and fires.

    Q-tips Repair manual
    (specific to your game, of course) Nut driver set Isopropyl Alcohol
    400 grit sandpaper New rubber rings Screwdrivers
    (standard and phillips) Needle-nose pliers
    Allen wrench set Switch adjustment tool Multimeter/VOM
    (analog or digital) Novus #1 and #2 cleaner
    Carnauba Wax Machine specific light bulbs
    (see Light Bulbs below) Shiny, new pinballs! High power flashlight

    It is important to regularly clean your playfield as dirt and/or grime will slow down play and could damage the images on the playfield. According to Norris, the best way to know when it's time to clean the playfield is to check the flipper return lanes for any accumulation of dirt.


    First, you’ll need to open the pinball machine and remove the cover glass. The tempered glass cover on most machines is very fragile - be careful when setting it down, especially on the corners. You don't want your cover in a million little pieces. Note: If you plan on tilting the playfield, remove the pinballs. If you need additional instruction, consult your repair manual.

    Use Novus #2 to clean the playfield. This cleaner is a fine scratch remover made specifically for plastic. Follow the directions on the container to properly clean your machine. For newer games, Pledge Furniture Polish works for a quick cleaning, according to Ron.

    For a basic cleaning, particularly on plastic ramps, use Novus #1 - this will give your parts a quick clean and a beautiful shine.

    Rich Huff, from Midwest Pinball, suggests waxing the playfield with a pure wax such as carnauba “every 12-18 months depending on the amount of use”. If the machine is used on a regular basis, in an arcade or other public place, the playfield will need to be waxed more often. Huff suggests polishing the playfield at least once a month if it is used frequently. Use a microfiber towel to evenly spread the wax over the playfield. Apply three coats of wax, buffing out each coat for best results, says Norris.

    As you wax and clean the playfield, watch out for sharp objects that can cut your fingers.

    Huff recommends replacing pinballs at least once a year because “rough pinballs will scratch up the playfield and eventually leave marks”. If the machine is used on a frequent basis, the pinballs should be replaced more often.

    Rubber Rings

    Rubber will deteriorate over time, especially with frequent use. The same holds true for the rubber rings on your playfield. Huff, of Midwest Pinball, suggests that when rings start to dry and crack, pinball machine owners should schedule maintenance service for a full cleaning and rubber ring replacement. Check the rubber rings regularly for wear.

    Replacing rubber rings is a time intensive job, especially on more complex games.

    EM machines generally have white rubber rings, while SS machines generally have black. It is important that replacement rings are the same color as the rings that are replaced (if you happen to have the expertise to change the rings yourself).


    While you have the playfield exposed, you should check your flippers to make sure they are working properly.

    Manually move the flippers to see if they scrape against the playfield. If they do scrape the playfield, the problem is probably the nylon bushings that hold the flipper up. Replace the bushing if needed (can purchase a new bushing from a pinball parts supplier).

    If the flipper parts are sticking (moving slow, etc.) clean all the parts of the flipper with isopropyl alcohol. If that doesn’t work, try replacing the flippers with a rebuild kit from a supplier.

    If your EOS (end of stroke) switch needs replaced, your best bet is to consult an expert, as it will require soldering.

    Check the solenoids (coils). Make sure that it is the correct spring for your machine (too strong of a solenoid can cause parts to break and too weak of a solenoid can make some points impossible to achieve).

    Note: Do not tighten springs on sticky flippers as you can cause significant damage. Never use lubricant on the flipper parts!



    Gold-plated: Switch matrixes and EOS from early to mid 90s

    Silver: Relay contacts, not used in solid state pins

    Tungsten (or copper): Pop bumper, flippers, EOS

    Wires should not be cleaned with contact cleaner.

    Cleaning and maintenance for switches differ between EM and SS pinball machines. Follow the instructions in your repair manual for specific instructions on testing your switches.

    It is very easy to over adjust switches so this step is best left in expert hands. Consult a pinball machine repair person for further instruction.

    According to Rich Huff, and many other pinball experts, batteries in SS machines should be replaced at least once a year. Note: EM machines do not use batteries.

    If left for too long, batteries will start leaking acid which can ruin the circuit board (often located close to the battery box).

    Batteries are usually located on the main board or CPU board in the backbox and can be replaced with the power on (to save your settings), but proceed with caution.

    “The #1 cause for CPU damage in any digital game, whether it’s from the 1970s or newer is battery leakage.” - Ron from Pinball Clinic

    If you have a repair manual, you can easily find out what light bulbs you need by consulting the manual.

    If you don’t have repair manual for your machine, you can find the ID number for the light bulb you need stamped on the bulb base.

    ALWAYS turn off the power before replacing bulbs.

    Where do you find the bulbs?

    They are generally located on and underneath the playfield and behind the backglass. Each game machine will have more than one kind of light bulb.

    In some machines, you may find bulbs in the pop bumper. In this case, you will have to remove the pop bumper cap to replace the bulbs. Follow manual instructions to avoid breaking parts.

    You can replace standard light bulb with LEDs which consume less energy and last longer.

    Flickering lights don’t necessarily mean a faulty light bulb. In most cases, they indicate a faulty socket.

    For a full socket replacement, consult a repair person/expert.

    For home remedies try cleaning the socket with a bulb socket cleaner from a parts supplier OR place a small drop of household oil on worn out washers in the socket.

    The artwork behind the glass on the back of the machine, hence: backglass.


    Silkscreen painting: Often found on EM machines, the silkscreen paint method often chips or peels. Seal the Glass with Krylon clean coat spray for long-lasting glass. Clean gently with a water-damp cloth.

    Translite: The new way of doing things: a thin sheet of plastic with art printed on! Clean translite with a water-damp cloth (do not use cleaners).

    Using lubricant where it does not belong can cause significant damage to your pinball machine. It creates gummed up parts that are nearly impossible to clean.

    Avoid WD40 and similar substances.

    Replace springs as necessary and use ONLY isopropyl alcohol to clean non-metal parts.

    Use lubricant on parts where metal hits metal (ie. EM pins).

    Types of fuses:

    Slow Blow

    Fast acting

    Very fast acting

    Fuses are located in the backbox or under the playfield.

    Check fuses using a voltmeter.

    The proper value for the fuse (to ensure it’s working) should be listed on a piece of paper attached to the machine box, playfield or within the manual.

    Replace fuses with new fuses that match the proper value. (see #2 )

    For more advanced repair, or if you are unsure what is wrong with your machine, consult an expert.
    Remember: Trying to fix a machine without proper experience and knowledge will almost always cause additional damage.

    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
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    Shepparton Vic
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    Um welcome to AA.

  3. #3
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    westlake, Brisbane
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    Welcome to AA. Useful info there for a beginner. Could possibly be integrated into Arcade Kings thread for newbies

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by raysco View Post
    Welcome to AA. Useful info there for a beginner. Could possibly be integrated into Arcade Kings thread for newbies
    Yes for sure great thread, pretty amazing first post @BenTaylor
    As for that thread Ray I'm sorry guys I've just been busy had other problems to deal with.
    I will stick this thread.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arcade King View Post
    Yes for sure great thread, pretty amazing first post @BenTaylor
    As for that thread Ray I'm sorry guys I've just been busy had other problems to deal with.
    I will stick this thread.
    Oh wow cool! Thanks!

  6. #6
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    Probably the best first post I've ever seen - thanks!

  7. #7
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    Illawarra NSW
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    As much as the info is appreciated, it's merely a copy and paste from another site. Not sure how amazing that is

  8. #8
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    Indeed.. As per the OP's quoted source.

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