A most unusual glitch in an “A-List” EM game

I’ve been very excited about one of my latest acquisitions. A much-coveted Bally 4 Million BC pinball machine that I drove almost 1200 miles to acquire. The game is in great condition but was having a very unusual problem whereby it would kick out extra balls into play constantly. After going after the most obvious places and cleaning relays, then looking at the schematics and expanding my search, then finally going through every relay in the machine and cleaning contacts, the problem still persisted.

Here’s a description of the issue:

Then finally, it dawned on me. How obvious the solution was! But a very rare thing to see in an EM: a glitch that was the result of the logic design of the game and me being careless when I went to wax the playfield!

First Time Pinball-Buyer Questions

Recently someone on a local mailing list posed these questions:

Hi all. I am looking to purchase my first pinball machine. I am specifically wondering about:
(1) Should I buy new or used
(2) Ebay and/or Craig’s list okay to buy from? or stick to this list and vendors?
(3) How much maintenance is generally required in a less than 10 year old pin?
(4) Is it best to start with a machine with less moving parts ? or does that not matter?
(5) Do I only buy pins listed as home use only or is there a way to get around the coin option? I am assuming there must be a free play setting.
(6) Can you fit a pin in a large SUV? or do you need a truck?
(7) What else do I need to know?

Thanks in advance for helping the newbie. 🙂

Those are some great questions so I thought I’d address them here.

First… Should I buy new or used?
The first consideration when purchasing a pinball machine is: How much money are you willing to spend? I would say, before that, you have an idea of what type of game you want? Are you into older, slower-paced electro-mechanical-style games or more modern gameplay? The amount of money you have available will also determine this direction.

Obviously, if someone is looking to get into the hobby for under $3000-$4000, there is only one answer: Buy used (with a few exceptions such as certain games like the repro King of Diamonds, or “consumer-grade/home-style” pinball machines, etc.). Modern commercial pinball machines are typically priced in the $3500+ range.  Also, the newer the game is, the more expensive it’s likely to be.  Later-model used games are now going for $4000+, so be prepared to give that checkbook some airtime if you’re looking for a late-model, modern game.

Typically, pinball enthusiasts fall into a few basic categories: people who like working on games, people who like working on and playing games, and people who mainly like playing games. Yes, there are some people who spend more time fixing and restoring games than they do playing — there’s a fourth category of what are called “flippers” which are people who are mainly into buying and selling but I consider them “salesmen” and not “pinball enthusiasts.” They have a lot of games, but they’re in it for the money. So you have to decide to what degree you may be interested in doing work on a game. The general rule is: the older the game, the more maintenance/work may be required to get it running and keep it running. This is not always a consistent rule. There are some modern games that are high maintenance and some old games that are very reliable – when you find something you’re interested in, do your research and read up on it (especially at ipdb.com).

People that are mainly into playing games and don’t have time or interest in working on them are best served by buying either late-model or NIB (new-in-box) games. Although I have to warn you, no matter how disinterested you are in having to work on a pinball machine, you will end up doing some maintenance. It’s the nature of the beast. Many people find out they enjoy working on the games as much as they do playing them.

If you have the time and the interest, buying a used game is the best deal. However, just deciding you want to get a used game is the first step. How you acquire the game, what game you choose, etc. will determine whether the process is fun or fraught with frustration. Which brings us to your next question:

Ebay and/or Craig’s list okay to buy from? or stick to mailing enthusiast groups and vendors?

For a first-time buyer, I would advise against using Craigslist or Ebay to purchase games.

EBay is too risky, especially if you’re having a game shipped. EBay games will often be sold “as-is.” Too much can happen to the game in transit and it’s easy to have a conflict between the buyer and seller and have the money get tied up over a dispute. Craigslist is also iffy because it’s the most common source where sellers misrepresent the condition of games, or simply don’t know and as a first-timer, you end up buying blind, not knowing the actual condition of the game. Also, Craiglist people cover a wide spectrum from flippers to enthusiasts to people who have just seen some “pickers”-type show on TV and think their game is worth 10x the fair market value. It’s not a place you should look to as a first-time buyer. It’s very easy to end up with a lemon or overspend.

metleVendors/Distributors are the way to go for new games. But note that vendors, if they sell used games, will often sell them way above market value, but if you want some kind of service agreement, they may offer the only option. As in every case, do some research and ask around about the seller/vendor’s reputation.

Other pinball enthusiasts are often the best source of games for newbies. Many love to introduce new people to the hobby. The best place IMO to pick up a game for a first timer at a good price, is at one of the pinball conventions. (In our area, there’s the Houston Arcade Expo and the Texas Pinball Festival in Dallas) These annual events often bring large groups of games for sale that in many cases were lovingly maintained by collectors. Plus you get a chance to play on the games and have other enthusiasts comment on whether the game and the deal is good.

How much maintenance is generally required in a less than 10 year old pin?

Is it best to start with a machine with less moving parts ? or does that not matter?


That’s a tough question, and there are no consistent answers. The amount of maintenance can vary based on dozens of factors (not the least of which is luck/fate), including the past history of the machine and how much play it’s seen, how well it was previously maintained, the particular model and whether it has any troublesome components, etc. Some manufacturers are more or less difficult to find parts for (Bally/Williams and Stern have the most parts available, followed by Gottlieb, and other manufacturers may have replacement parts less available – so take that into account if you decided to look at a Capcom, Game Plan or Chicago Coin machine).

pc0I’ve seen situations where NIB games required more maintenance than 40 year old ones. You have to ask the seller/owner on a game-by-game basis. However, some architectures are more reliable than others. Williams System 3 games have some issues. Gottlieb System 1 games have some issue but they can be mitigated with some modifications, etc. Do your research and see if common problems have already been addressed (like adding remote battery holders on games). Find out if any particular playfield part commonly malfunctions or balls get stuck on certain machines. If reliability is an issue, this may point you away from particular machines that have lots of moving components that aren’t well-designed.

Do I only buy pins listed as home use only or is there a way to get around the coin option? I am assuming there must be a free play setting.

“Home Use Only” is a very ambiguous term. Take it with a grain of salt. Unless the seller has documentation proving he purchased the game and it was never used commercially, there’s no way to know, and furthermore, HUO doesn’t necessarily mean the game is in better-condition than something that was put on route. It all depends upon how the owner cared for the game. I’ve seen HUO games that were ruined, water-damaged, full of cat hair and in horrible condition, and I’ve seen heavily-routed games that were imported from foreign countries that look gorgeous for their age.

Most modern games can be set to free play. Many of the older EM games didn’t have a free-play setting but it’s not too difficult to add a jumper to make them play for free. That’s not a problem. Most people like to keep the coin mechs in the games, and some of us even like to make the games “pay for play” like they originally were. Having to find a quarter to play a game makes each game session a little more important IMO.

Can you fit a pin in a large SUV? or do you need a truck?

Yes, most SUVs can fit a pinball machine – depending upon the model, but most of them can – but once again, check your model. The ones with a back seat where the seats can fold down are quite roomy. I have a Toyota 4Runner that I use as my principle pin-hauling machine and it works great.

What else do I need to know?

Get to know the local pinball people in your area. Spend time with them. The more games you play, the more you’ll know what you like and what will be a good deal. Unfortunately most pinball people end up paying too much for their first game, or getting a game that is harder to maintain than they’d like, so the more research you know, and if you have a friend who can help you out who knows more, that’s great. Sites like PinballHelp.com also have various resources. I have a large array of videos on repair and maintenance, lists of sources for pinball parts and items to clean and maintain your game, and other helpful hints. Other places like Pinside and RGP are good for researching particular games and technical issues.

Good luck with your first game!!

Fixing multi-player game problems on 70s era Gottlieb EM Pinball Machines

The other day one of my games stopped working.. A Gottlieb “300” 4-player EM game. What was happening was it would only do 1-player games and not any 2-3-4 player games. I don’t know if it had been not doing it for awhile since I usually play just one-player games but it wasn’t working. I checked various things and ended up being stumped. Clay gave me a few suggestions and eventually we narrowed the issue down to a stepper unit near the front that ratcheted from 1-2-3-4 players. Duh! This video series is pretty embarrassing, but hey, that’s the way it goes… at least I fixed it…

You’ll notice in the first video in the playlist, I’m basically describing the problem, and then for the second, I’m already well into tearing the culprit stepper motor apart. I don’t remember if I lost part of the video series, or (more likely) I felt like I should have caught this myself and not needed help so I quickly dived into it before I realized some others might benefit from my trials and tribulations.

First Impressions: Metallica LE Pinball

metleI visited a friend today and got a chance to play his Metallica LE game. He had it next to a BiBLE and several other “A-list” games. I’d say I put at least 40+ games on the machine and went through a good bit of the modes and thought I might share my first impressions…

Visually the game is very striking and a lot more colorful than the ACDC variants. The hand-drawn artwork really makes the game “pop”. I agree with others that the powder coating doesn’t seem to be as high-quality as it should and things like undecorated siderails and hinges, at the price these things are going for, seems a bit insulting to not include, especially when I can look at the gorgeous siderails and custom-hinges on the ACDC LE which cost quite a bit less. Other issues like the snake sans fangs (apparently the snake on the playfield originally came with long fangs but nobody at Stern realized being hit by the ball would cause them to break, so instead of addressing the issue or replacing broken snakes, Stern simply ground off the fangs for all future games from what I’ve been told) . You’d expect a company that has been in business a few years to do, but not one that’s been producing “the only real pinball machines” for decades. Why include a smaller subwoofer than ACDC? Why not include the shaker motor in the uber-expensive LEs?? At this price, Stern still seems to be making cost-cuts, design snafus, and compromises that aren’t easily forgivable. But as long as people spend their kids’ college fund on these things sight-unseen, I don’t see that changing.

With that out of the way and the quintessential cost-cutting that Stern seems to be famous for and often gets criticized over, I have to say the game feels quite solid. There isn’t an abundance of plastic dingleberries riveted here-or-there, or stupid action figures purchased from Target shoehorned onto the playfield as an afterthought. The toys look great and act solid. The hammer is cool, but it seems lame that there’s a phillips screw smack in your field of view.. like they couldn’t put that around the side? The mechanical design seems to have rudimentary aesthetic flaws… granted they’re minor, but at the amount of money these things are going for, it would be nice to see a heightened attention to detail.

The toys are pretty cool though. The coffin multiball is a fun action. The snake “puking” the ball back at you is neat. The progressive drop targets are a crowd pleaser. Even though there are a number of “hit this X times to make something happen” targets on the playfield, Stern has done a good job of not making you feel like you’re playing whack-a-mole or engaging in monotonous, repetitive behavior. There’s lots of things to hit all around the playfield, and there aren’t a lot of “dead shots” where the ball doesn’t register. There’s a LOT going on with this playfield and the multi-ball sequences are very fun to unlock.. the shot callouts are cool too – and I can see this is an area where things will get even better. Lots of really cool touches.. like the double-bass beats when you shoot a ball through a spinner.. music and light integration is well done (and hopefully will improve even more).

What I like most about this game is that it looks like it has a really nice balance between having a lot going on so a first-time or inexperienced player can have fun, as well as an experienced pro can continue to find challenge. I found my first few games on the machine had long ball times — this game is clearly a lot easier than ACDC, and offers more short-term gratification, but the more you learn the ruleset, the more challenging the game becomes. Contrast this with ACDC where the game is frustrating and hard for both inexperienced and seasoned players, and then proceeds to become even more frustrating and challenging as you learn the ruleset. Metallica is more approachable across-the-board for any type of player. The shots are much more definitive and combos are very satisfying.

I think Metallica is a great hybrid of what is great about ACDC + Tron. ACDC’s rather convoluted and confusing ruleset gives way to a more linear setup in Metallica, with much better flow and more satisfying combo shots and a lot less “dead shots” where you lose control of the ball and start to pray you can get it back. Metallica is both a novice and a player’s game.

In short order, from simply playing, I was able to get an easier grasp of what was going on with the ruleset and how I could stack certain things. Whereas with ACDC it was (and still seems to be) very confusing.

I have to admit that I much prefer ACDC to Metallica from a musical/theme standpoint. But gameplay wise, I think Metallica is a better game. They’re both fun games, but Metallica is a better game – with a layout with more shots and more things going on and a more approachable ruleset. It’s a very good game. And in its software infancy, it will probably get a lot better.

Congrats to the team behind Metallica. Very impressive.