Guide to Buying Used Pinball Machines
Pinball is a timeless game that has seen a resurgence in the last few years, with new pinball arcades popping up around the country. Something about the flashing lights, ringing bells and lightning fast silver ball draws people in and won’t let them go.
Most avid pinball players have their favorite machines to play and the ultimate goal is to have your very own inside your home. With brand new machines starting at about $5,500 a used machine might be the route for you.
-Type- There are a few different types of machines starting with Electro-Mechanical or EM.
-EM games are relay-based machines controlled by a score motor and stepper units. These were made until the late 70’s. Usually a lot of moving parts and switches.
-Solid State or SS machines are controlled by an electronic microprocessor. These feature digital scoring and sound.
-Dot Matrix Display or DMD machines are Solid State machines with a display that is used both for scoring and low-res video.
-Liquid-Crystal Display or LCD machines are similar to DMD but with a larger LCD display. LCD screens can display extremely high quality graphics, animation and even movie and TV clips. LCD displays have been around for the last few years in new pinball machines.
-Size of pinball machines- Pinball machines come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but a general idea of the measurements would be around 55" L x 27" W x 75.5" H and weigh around 250 pounds. Most machines made in the last 20-30 years are roughly these dimensions, but make sure to get exact measurements to be sure it’ll fit into your desired location.
-Where to buy- A good place to start is your local online classifieds or craigslist. If there is a local club or pinball league, those are even better because you can get to know the local collectors and get their insights as well. This isn’t always an option if you live in a less metropolitan area though. Ebay and other online retailers also sell used pinball machines but the shipping costs can become a little expensive. It is strongly recommended that you see and play the game before buying.
-What to look for- Pinball machines are handmade and contain 100’s of moving parts, so inspecting one for everything that could be wrong is a pretty tall order for your average pinball fan buying their first machine. There are some basic issues that anyone can look for:
-Basic Functionality- First things first: PLAY THAT THING! If you can play it before you buy, do it! Play it 5 times in a row…then play it 10 more times. Some issues with machines don’t come up but every so many games and you want to make darn sure those issues don’t magically appear when you get it home. Some things to look for are scoring inaccuracies, faulty pop bumpers, faulty vertical upkicks and bad switches or solenoids. (On newer machines you can also run diagnostics tests in the ‘Service Menu’ to check for errors in the machine’s operation.)
-Back Glass- Besides basic functionality of the machine it is important to inspect the cabinet, playfield and back glass. The back glass (or translite) is probably the hardest item to replace because although some reproductions are made for more popular machines, they are not made for all. Even the reproductions can run in the $150+ range.
-Behind the back glass- If you are able to do so, have the seller open up the back glass so you can see behind it. If the game is a solid state check the batteries on the boards in the back glass cabinet. These will sometimes leak and can cause serious issues with the machine. You will also want to inspect the boards for corrosion. Also pay attention to the cleanliness of the back glass cabinet. If it is clean then you can be more confident in how it’s been cared for over the years.
-Playfield- You are going to want the playfield to be in at least “good” condition. This means relatively flat and smooth with no missing inserts or bare wood showing. If the paint is flaking or chipping off the playfield you’ll want to keep on looking.
-Under the hood (playfield) - If the seller is kind enough to show you the back glass then they shouldn’t have a problem lifting the playfield up for you. This will also give you an idea of how the machine has been cared for. The bottom of the playfield can be intimidating to look at the first few times but all you are really looking for are obvious signs of wear or damage. Look at the coils and see if the paper is burned or crispy from heat or that there aren’t any loose, bare or dangling wires. Check for any signs of water or smoke damage. If it looks relatively clean and cared for, you can be a little more confident in your purchase.
-Cabinet- The cabinet is probably the least of your concerns when it comes to playability and overall enjoyment of the game but it is still good to look it over. It is important to examine the joints and corners of the machine to make certain there isn’t any cracking or separation. If there is it could indicate that the machine has been dropped in transport or hasn’t been properly cared for. Be very weary of a machine if the cabinet is coming apart. Also examine the legs and what condition the levelers and bolts are in. These can be easily replaced if they are rusting or damaged.
If you can, have professional game movers deliver and set-up your pinball. Being that these are intricate, hand-made machines, the act of transporting them is best done by individuals with some experience. Getting the machines up and down stairs as well as maneuvering them through tight doorways can be trickier than some may think.
If you insist on moving the machine yourself we suggest having others assist you. Make sure to take the balls out of the machine before transporting. Removing the legs and taking down the headboard are also both highly recommended before transporting. Make sure to use pads and moving blankets to protect the unit.
Maintaining your pinball
Pinball machines require much TLC and attention to detail. Maintaining your machine is a continuous process throughout the ownership of the machine. If your pinball was cleaned and shopped (rubber rings replaced, plastics waxed, playfield waxed etc.) before purchasing, you should be good for at least the first year, depending on usage. It’s always a good idea to clean and wax your playfield once a year. The rubber rings are sold in kits and should be replaced when the rubbers start to show wear and/or dirt build up.
So you found a machine you love, found it for the right price, inspected the game, pulled the trigger and now you’re having issues. Don’t worry, this stuff happens and that is why there are numerous resources online like pinside.com, IPDB.org and pinwiki.com. These sites can be very helpful to the first time pin owner but if you are still having issues you can always contact Game Room Guys service department for further assistance.