Super Nova Pinball Machine (GamePlan, 1980)

Symptoms: Display issues, switch matrix problems, roulette wheel problem, sound problems, lamp problems.
Location: Lyons Classic Pinball, Lyons, Colorado

I’ve been working on a couple of GamePlan pinball machines recently (Andromeda is the other one).  There is nothing particularly difficult about working on GamePlan machines with the exception of getting replacement mechanical parts.

This Super Nova pinball machine has an aftermarket market MPU board installed.  The aftermarket board uses an integrated RAM/Lithium battery component.  This is really a bad idea.  What happens when the battery dies?  It’s not replaceable without also replacing the RAM it’s attached to.  If there is anything I’ve learned in 30 years of electronics, that RAM/battery component will no longer be available when the battery needs to be replaced. This will render the board useless at some point in the future.

There was a display problem with most of the LED digits with segments that weren’t working.  This was related to the edge connector that connects to the MPU board.  Someone had added solder to the edge connector, presumably to get it to fit tighter, but it was uneven.  I took some 400 grit emery paper and sanded down the contacts so each had just a thin layer of solder.  This corrected the display issues.

This machine had several problems with the switch matrix.  You can download a .pdf of the Super Nova switch matrix here. The matrix consists of 40 switches arranged by 5 “strobes” (outputs) and 8 “lines” (inputs).

The first problem was with the Switch Catcher Unit (SCU-1) circuit board mounted on the underside of the playfield.  There are 4 switches connected to this board.  (The purpose of this board is to make sure the MPU doesn’t miss a quick hit to these switches; it lengthens the switch pulses.) When any of the switches made contact, it would momentarily short the 5 volt supply causing the machine to crash/reset. I traced this to a faulty 74279 chip.


Switch Catcher Unit (with faulty 74279 removed and a new socket installed)

Some of the solder joints on the backside of the connector were cracked and needed to be resoldered.

The second problem with the switch matrix was that every switch connected to Strobe #1 wasn’t working.  I traced this to a faulty connector at the MPU board.  It was just one pin that was bad.   None of the connectors used in this machine are standard Molex.  So rather than replacing only the bad crimp pin, I ended up replacing the entire connector.

Now that the displays and switches were working, I tested all of the solenoids.  The only thing that wasn’t working was the spinning roulette wheel (the Space Lab).  I traced this to a bad relay and a bad transistor driving the relay. The relay had been previously replaced with the wrong one. There was a 6V relay instead of a 28V relay. At some point the transistor that drives it shorted and burned up the coil.  After replacing both, the Space Lab wheel worked fine.

Next on the list was fixing the sound.  It was only making a single sound when playing the machine.  Usually when a machine has sound problems like this, I will check to see if there are any videos on YouTube so I can see how the sound is supposed to behave. The first thing I noticed is that there is no background sound during play.

There is a jumper on the sound board that enables or disables background sound. This was missing.  If background sound is desired, the jumper should be in the left position as shown in the photo below.

Sound Board with jumper for background sound circled.

Sound Board with jumper for background sound circled.  (Click for larger)

After installing the jumper, I was still missing many sounds. Using the oscilloscope, I check for pulses on the sound select inputs and there were none.  The problem was with the connectors at the bottom of the backbox.

Connectors at bottom of backbox.

Connectors at bottom of backbox.

At some point in the past, presumably with the original MPU board, the battery leaked and caused most of the connector pins to corrode.

Corroded connector pins.

Corroded connector pins.  The tip of the  male pin on the right had broken off.

All of the remaining problems with this machine were related to these backbox connectors. I don’t know the manufacturer of the original connectors, but I was able to find some Molex pins that worked (Male: 02-08-2004, Female: 02-08-1002). The old pins were removed from the housings using an extraction tool. Then the holes in the housings for the Molex male pins had to be enlarged using a 7/64″ drill.

Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure (Williams, 1993)

Symptom: When starting game, 6 balls would eject into shooter lane.
Location: Denver, Colorado

Obviously, there was a problem with the ball trough optical sensors.  Upon closer examination, there was no +12V supply voltage on either the IR emitter side of the trough or the receiver side.

To the backbox we go.  The +12V for misc playfield sensors comes off the lower left of the Power Driver board. There are several 4 pin connectors located there (J116, J117, and J118).  All of the connectors looked good.  I checked the +12V there and it was still missing.

Fuse F116 was blown, which supplies the 12 VAC to the rectifier, which generates the DC version of the voltage.


Circus Pinball Machine (Gottlieb, 1980)

Location: Loveland, Colorado.
Symptoms: Displays not working, playfield lighting blows fuse.

I was really impressed by how immaculate this machine was.  It looked like it had just been un-crated.  It definitely had low miles on it.  No doubt home-use only.

The interesting thing about the displays is that the credit/ball-in-play display was working, and the score displays were not working.  They were dark/off.  I spent a few minutes looking at the schematic, searching for what was in common with the score displays, and at the same time, not in common with the credit/ball-in-play display.  There was only one thing: the filament voltages for the display tubes.

The score displays run off a 5 VAC filament supply and the credit display uses a 3 VAC filament supply. So I started by measuring the filament voltage at the Player 1 display and sure enough, zero volts.  I lifted up the playfield and found the 5 VAC leaving the power transformer.  So somewhere in between a connection wasn’t being made.

I found the problem at a wire to wire backbox connector. In this case, there was a pin that wasn’t crimped correctly at the factory.

Crimp pin was installed incorrectly at the factory.  The wire was inserted too far and the crimp went around the insulation rather than the conductor.

Crimp pin was installed incorrectly at the factory. The wire was inserted too far and the crimp went around the insulation rather than the conductor.

If I held the wire a certain way, the displays lit up.  I replaced the pin with a new one and all was good.

The next issue was that the general illumination lighting on the playfield would randomly blow a fuse.  This is usually caused by a short at one of the sockets.  I checked each socket and found one that had been damaged (right near where the prop bar is used to prop up the playfield). Just the slightest vibration would cause it to short out.  I replaced that socket and one other socket that was marginal.


West Slope Lubrication Tour

Locations: Basalt, Colorado; Grand Junction, Colorado.

First stop was to work on a Wurlitzer jukebox model 1100 (1948). Like many 1940′s Wurlitzers I’ve worked on, the selector shaft and heart-shaped cam was not rotating due to lack of recent lubrication. This causes it to play one selection regardless of what was selected.  Unfortunately, it’s not an easy thing to get freed up, and takes a lot of exercising and time.

The jukebox needed some other adjustments, such as the turntable height and the clutch. I replaced the line cord because it was in very dangerous condition. The color cylinder plastic sheets were also replaced.  This was an original, un-restored 1100 in good condition.

Next stop was to work on two Williams electro-mechanical (EM) pinball machines, Grand Prix and Aztec (both 1976).  The main problem with these machines were the stepper units were not freely ratcheting up and down. This is the number one problem with EM pinball machines.  A quick disassembly, cleaning and lubrication fixes the problem.  Occasionally the spring tension needs to be adjusted.

The Aztec was missing some electrical parts, which can’t be obtained unless someone is parting one out.  But I got it working as best I could.

Next stop was an AMI jukebox, model A (1946), which is also known as the Mother of Plastic. The selection mechanism was frozen due to lack of recent lubrication.  Like the 1100 above, it took a while to get it unfrozen and moving freely.  The selection buttons needed some contact cleaning and lube (buttons would stick when pressed). The tonearm wire where it plugs into the amp needed to the resoldered.  All in all, a great sounding jukebox.

It was satisfying to breathe some new life into these old machines.

Alien Poker Pinball Machine (Williams, 1980)

Location: Boulder, CO
Symptoms: Incorrect sounds

The sounds on this pinball machine were working when the machine was first turned on.  But after a very short time, the sound would go wonky.

After some discussion with the owner, we determined that the sounds themselves were not defective, it was just the wrong sounds playing at the wrong time.  For example when hitting a particular target you’d hear the ball drain sound rather than a speech clip.

Pressing the self-test on the sound board yielded all of the correct sounds.  This indicated that the sound select signals from the MPU board were not correct.  With the oscilloscope, I looked for pulses on pins 10-14 on IC 10 on the sound board, while the owner triggered things on the playfield.  Some signals were missing.  When I checked the same signal at J3, they were present.

The culprit was cracked solder joints on the connector.  In the photo below you can see cracked solder around the top three and the bottom three pins on the connector.

Cracked solder joints on connector pins.

Cracked solder joints on connector pins.

At the owners request, I pulled all of the boards out of the backbox and touched up any solder joints that looked suspicious.  After that, the proper sounds sounds played at the proper times.


Quick Draw Pinball Machine, Gottlieb 1975

Location: Fort Collins, Colorado.
Symptoms: Score reels sticking, not resetting, 50 and 500 points items not scoring, not always advancing to next player or ball, bonus countdown issues, score accumulating when switching players.

The machine has been missing the rear door for the backbox for a long time and a lot of dust had settled in there.  The switch contacts on the player unit needed cleaning and adjusting.  This accomplished a lot in eliminating problems. The score advancing when changing players was due to the reset contacts (switch stacks P3 and P4) vibrating or set too close.

The player unit keeps track of ball numbers, player turns, and controls the reset of the scores. What makes working on the player units difficult is that the switch stacks are very close together. I’ve made a home-made switch adjusting tool that is able to fit in between switch stacks. I’ve also made some cleaning strips with a jogged shape them to help with switch cleaning.

Some of the decagon units needed to be rebuilt and contacts cleaned. A majority of the time was spent in the backbox.  The owner will craft a new back door to help keep the dust out.

There were a few other mis-adjusted contacts on the bonus unit and the 50 and 500 point relays.

Another EM pinball machine saved.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind Pinball Machine (EM version), Gottlieb (1978)

Location: Parker, Colorado.
Symptoms: Machine not resetting, points not registering, drop targets not resetting, bad light socket, and various other problems.

This is the rarer electro-mechanical version of this pinball machine.

On most EM machines, you can disconnect the credit subtract coil to put the game in Free Play mode.  However, on this machine, there are switch contacts on the credit subtract lever that trigger the Start Relay (S). I bypassed those with a wire.

Next, the relay coil spring on the Reset Relay (AX) had been previously replaced with the wrong one that was much weaker.  I traded the spring from the Hold Relay, where the spring tension is less critical, to the Reset Relay and then re-adjusted the contacts. This fixed the problem with the machine not resetting correctly.

Next, many of the point scoring relays such as the 500 point and 5000 point were not holding though a cycle of the score motor.  They are all common and routed through the normally closed Motor 2B switch.  This switch was simply out of adjustment.

Eight relays are routed through a common hold switch on the score motor.

Eight relays are routed through a common hold switch on the score motor.

One of the formed switch blades had broken off the score motor and a replacement was obtained from The Pinball Resource.

Broken formed switch blade from Score motor.

Broken formed switch blade from Score motor.

Some of the contacts on the player unit needed to be cleaned and adjusted, which is a typical problem with Gottlieb multi-player machines. The bonus stepper unit was gummed up and not advancing or awarding bonus.  It was cleaned and rebuilt.

The spinner switch needed adjusting because it was scoring points with just vibration from the playfield.

After replacing a broken light socket and spraying the back side of the backglass with Krylon Triple Thick Clear Glaze (to help stabilize the paint and keep it from peeling), the machine was looking and working great!


Silverball Mania Pinball Machine (Bally, 1980)

Location: Arvada, CO
Symptoms: Blows playfield coil fuses; needs new rubbers and bulbs, cleaning.

I started by replacing both playfield fuses since they were blown.  When I started a game, the kicker at the outhole started firing randomly, sometimes very rapidly.  The sensing switch seemed to be fine. I also noticed that some of the pop bumpers weren’t firing correctly.  If I pressed on the left pop bumper skirt, the center pop bumper would fire.  Basically there was something not right with the solenoid driver circuit.

I started with the signal for the kicker coil, and with the oscilloscope, I traced it back through the solenoid driver board. The signal going into driver transistor Q11 was going crazy.  I went further back to the output of the 74154 decoder chip (U2) and the signal (pin 15) was still crazy and random looking. No wonder the fuses blew.

I checked the input signals to the 74154 and the “B” signal was randomly moving between 1 and 2 volts.  This is neither a digital “1″ or “0″ and it makes digital circuits act randomly.  I traced the signal further back to the MPU board to the output of the 6820 PIA (U11, Pin 11).  Since the 6820 was already in a socket, I lifted it out of the socket and bent pin 11 out, then put the 6820 back in.  This isolated pin 11 from the rest of the circuit to make sure that nothing else was interfering with the signal.  The oscilloscope showed it was still bad.

6820 PIA chip with pin 11 lifted to isolate it from the rest of the circuit.

6820 PIA chip with pin 11 lifted to isolate it from the rest of the circuit.

The faulty “B” signal would also cause the wrong pop bumpers (and other solenoids) to fire.

I replaced the 6820 with a 6821 (they are interchangeable)  Also, I replaced the 5101 RAM chip on the MPU board with an AnyPin NVRAM module and removed the battery from the circuit board. This will save the MPU board from future corrosion caused by battery gasses.

At this point the machine was working well, except it wouldn’t boot about 50% of the time.  It looked like a problem with the reset circuit.  Bally didn’t include a time delay in the reset circuit like most other manufacturers. I added a 4.7 uF tantalum capacitor across R2 to give the reset a little bit of time delay when it boots.  It solved the problem and booted 100% of the time after that.

4.7uF capacitor added across R2 to assist reset circuit.  AnyPin NVRAM module in lower right.

4.7uF capacitor added across R2 to assist reset circuit. The positive pin of the capacitor is connected to the right side of R2.  AnyPin NVRAM module in lower right.

Finally, all of the rubbers were replaced, bad bulbs replaced, and the playfield cleaned and waxed. Some of the light sockets needed cleaning because the bulbs weren’t making good connections.

Black Hole, Gottlieb Pinball Machine (1981)

Location: Littleton, Colorado.
Symptoms: Overall tune up, spinning disk in backbox not working.

I didn’t get many photos of this machine.  The owner was expecting a house showing and I was trying to get everything finished before the realtor came.

The machine needed a lot of little things fixed, everything from loose ball guides, rubber pieces, bad bulbs, broken bumper caps, broken bumper body, and drop targets.  The machine had too many balls installed in it which caused problems with the outhole and the eject mechanism to the shooter lane. This era of Gottlieb machines can only hold 3 balls in the trough.

Lower playfield

Lower playfield after cleaning and replacing broken pop bumper.

This machine needed a new motor for the spinning disk behind the backglass.  The parts needed to replace these motors are (as of 4-4-2014):

Quantity Description Supplier
1 3 RPM Gear Motor, part no. 638158 Servo City
1 0.770” Set Screw Hub for 6 mm shaft, part no. 545576 Servo City
1 0.770” to 0.625” hub adapter, part no. 545456 Servo City
4 Socket Head Cap Screw 6-32 x 1/4” Servo City
or hardware store
1 Machine Screw M3 x 6 mm Servo City
or hardware store
1 #4 lock washer, split or internal star Servo City
or hardware store

The hub mounts to the motor, the hub adapter mounts to the hub with the socket head cap screws, and the motor mounts to the machine with the M3 screw. The screw holes in the front of the motor don’t align with the existing bracket, so I only used a single screw with a lock washer to mount the motor. It seemed sturdy enough.

The existing black flat-head screws that hold the disk to the old gear motor are reused to mount the disk to the hub adapter.

I attached a connector to the new motor and plugged it into the existing connector on the wire harness. I connected the polarity to spin counter-clockwise. Everything worked great!

I was recently at the Texas Pinball Festival and saw two Black Hole pinball machines and neither had working motors. It seems to be a common problem.

Underside of main playfield

Underside of main playfield

Gottlieb System 80B Pinball Machines, Voltage Adjustment

Tip: When adjusting the 5 volt supply on a Gottlieb Systems 80B pinball machine, adjust it to 5.00 volts or lower, but not below 4.85 volts.

The reason for this is the poor design of the Memory Protect circuit, located on the CPU board.  There is a 3V zener diode (VR1) located on the CPU board that will start getting hot and fail if the supply voltage goes above 5.0 volts.

Zener diode with a bulge and crack along right side.

Zener diode (VR1) with a bulge and crack along right side.

Although the failed zener diode shown above was still basically working, I suspect it was acting intermittently, causing the CPU board to freeze up. Regardless, a bulging and cracked diode shouldn’t be trusted.  This was from a machine where the 5 volt supply was adjusted over 5.00 volts  (5.12 volts).

Also, the 5 volt adjustment pot on the power supply should be replaced with a fixed resistor.  The pot will get dirty and become sensitive to vibration, causing voltage fluctuations.   The best thing to do is adjust it for 5 volts, de-solder the pot from the circuit board, measure the resistance, and replace it with a fixed resistor or a combination of fixed resistors to obtain an equivalent resistance.