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Pinball Question: Buying your first machine

Local experts give advice on buying a pinball machine.

What advice would you give to a pinball enthusiast who is interested in buying their first machine?

Jeff Groper: Encourage them to hold out for a title they actually want. I’ve seen too many people buy something dull because they had a boner to buy their first machine. Keep it local and take someone who owns pins so when it’s time to kick the tires, even if they aren’t a repair whiz they should be able to spot red flags. Use pinpedia.com to sanity check pricing, and if you’re leery at all, ask the WPC list.

Aaron McAbee: Look over the table on youtube.com to view what it looks like in good working repair and full sound. Also, have a well-lit area to get a good view of every part of the table inside and out.

Kathy Gagno: Definitely bring someone who knows the mechanics of pins to help decide whether it is a good deal or not.

Charlie Martin: My 2 cents would be to buy from a collector, not a [pinball machine] flipper, and play at least 5 games on it after looking it over very closely. A good seller will always point out the pin’s flaws. They will also offer help when it breaks or some sort of limited warranty.

Rodney Olsen: The most important is to make sure you know what you’re getting. Take someone with you that knows pinball. Check all coils, switches, and lamp flashers.

Bobby Conover: Have him/her take a crash course! Buy one cheap, dirty, and broken, and fix it up. Great way to learn how a machine actually works, and if he wants to own pins long-term he can apply the knowledge to all future machines.
Rod, you really sit there checking every lamp when you buy a game? 🙂

Rodney Olsen: I check all of the lamps not because I care about changing a bulb but because you may have one section of GI out which could point to board issues.

SS: What does “GI” mean?  Is it an abbreviation for some pinball expert lingo?

Rodney Olsen: GI means General Illumination. Modern machines will have the GI separated into sections. This allows the designer to turn on and off certain GI for effects. Because of this you could have areas where there isn’t GI because of board issues. I could show you how this works.

Dan Halligan: I bought a dead ’80s Craigslist deal for my first pin and it was a great way to learn about cleaning, repair and upkeep on a less complicated game. But it really depends on what you’re looking for, one killer game for your home (in which case, hold out for a game you really really want), or to start a collection and get into the hobby. There’s something to be said for starting with an older game, it’s much easier to learn on.

Keith Nelson: Here’s a list of questions I have emailed to people in the past…….  of course there are many other questions that could be asked.

How much are you asking for it? Is there any playfield wear? What would you rate the playfield on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being best)? Are there any broken or missing plastics? What would you rate the plastics condition? Are there any broken targets? Do all the mechanicals work? Have there been any modifications to the mechanicals? Do all the spinners work? Are the spinners in good physical appearance? What would you rate the mechanical condition? Are there any missing mechanical pieces? Do all the sounds work? Is there any humming on the sound? Do both speakers work? Are there any missing dots, digits or is there anything wrong with the display(s) in general? How bright are the displays? Is the battery case corroded? Are there any missing chips from the electrical boards? Has the machine ever been rewired? Is the plunger spring or tip in need of repair? What would you rate the cabinet art’s condition? Has the machine ever been laid on its side? Do all the lamps work? Are there any missing electrical boards or wiring from the backboards? Have there been any modifications to the electronics on the machine? Have there been any modifications to any part of the machine that you haven’t already mentioned? Are there any holes or scratches in the backglass? Overall, what would you rate the machine on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being best?

Cayle George: I think there are a lot of guides on the web. Google it up 🙂

Dale Garbutt: That’s a very good question. Unfortunately there are so many questions that should be asked that it’s impossible to list them all.  My best advice is for them to educate themselves. The more you read, the better a buyer you will be.  Fortunately, the internet is a vast resource of info.  There is no substitute for experience when it comes to purchasing a complicated machine like a pinball, much like buying a car, but you can make yourself better prepared. If they or you know of any local pinhead, it would be well worth contacting them to see if they can take a look before you buy, much like getting a car inspected.

Ryan Gratzer: I don’t buy games, so I’m not very experienced with this stuff.
I would definitely recommend looking in the backbox to see if any of the boards have corrosion.

Avout: I always look for a good playfield and plastics, as well as a decent-to-good backglass. Coils, circuit boards and so on are relatively easy to fix, [but] artwork not so much, you will always be able to tell. If there are some wear and tear issues with the artwork, the game’s selling price should reflect that. Use the classifieds section at MrPinball.com for reference. You can always shell out top dollars if you really, really, really need to have THAT game, but it doesn’t hurt to at least educate yourselves a little before you go spend that money. And oh, stay with the big 3 (Bally, Williams and Gottlieb) if you can. Or maybe even Chicago Coin. After that, it might get hard to find parts.

Larry Reid: Obviously ask: how much? 

A late model Williams in decent shape can fetch $2,500 or more. Less for Bally and Gottlieb. Make sure it comes with the “book”. New Sterns are 4 grand, and aren’t much fun to play after a while, if ever.  Old electromechanical machines are wonderful, but high maintenance. Expect a lot of downtime.

Lift playfield and remove backglass to inspect for mildew (a sign the machine has been stored in damp quarters – bad.) Also look for any sign of scorching or lingering scent of electrical burning. (Common, and also bad.) If it doesn’t at least power up, don’t buy it. It could be toast. Ideally the machine will play well. Cosmetic damage is to be expected, but playfield plastics should be intact. (Aftermarket replacements are really expensive.) My advice is to spend the cash up-front for a nice Williams. Medieval Madness, Monster Bash, Cactus Canyon, and Attack from Mars are likely too pricey. But you can usually find a Fun House, Fish Tales, Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Creature From the Black Lagoon  – that era – for somewhere around $2,000.

Dominique: Are they planning on working on it? They should be.

5 replies on “Pinball Question: Buying your first machine”

My son and I have a bit of an obsession with pinball machines, and I think it would be neat for us to get one for our home. I like how you talked about finding a collector to buy pinball machines from, not just someone who flips them. I’m going to have to see if we can find a collector of pinball machines in the area and find a good one for my son and I to enjoy together!

Back when I was just ten years old, I used to play pinball machines every single day, and because of this, I aspire to become an avid collector of these. Thanks for the tip that I should talk to someone local and see if collecting them is something that I really want. I think I’ll look for some that are for sale and ask them how much one costs so I’ll know if I’m financially prepared for my new hobby.

Hi, I have an old 86 Motor Drone machine, I just and put a new 6803 in it. works almost perfect except when I put it in the test mode- single lamps-, when the Bright lights (they don’t ever light) are suppose to show it says reset 1 then reset 2 , reset 3 — does anyone know how to do this with the keypad??? — thank you.

We’re not repair experts here. I’d suggest asking on either Pinside or on one of the Facebook pinball groups. Good luck!

Playing is a wonderful mental release. Until release. Buy a new machine so you have no trouble. When you’re done sell it and either buy another one or get your money back. Lately you’ll be getting more than your money back.

These are not investments however lately things have been going quite crazy price wise. Just buy it and know that when you sell it you will get almost everything back.

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