I’ve been working on a lot of EM (electromechanical) pinball machines lately. I usually don’t write about them here because the repairs don’t make for interesting reading and wouldn’t be very helpful to owners of other pinball machines.
Electromechanical pinball machines are the ones with the score reels instead of digital readouts, and have chimes and bells instead of electronic sounds. These machines use mechanical motors and stepper relays instead of digital circuits. It’s pretty amazing what they were able to accomplish using mechanical devices before the digital age.
As pinball machines become more popular, many of these old machines are being pulled out of storage and need a little TLC to get them up and running again.
Some of the EM pinball machines I’ve worked on recently are:
Dealer’s Choice (Williams, 1974)
Straight Flush (Williams, 1970)
Aladdin’s Castle (Bally, 1975)
Bally Hoo (Bally, 1969)
Super Star (Williams, 1972)
There are two common problems that most EM machines have: Dirty or mis-adjusted contacts or gummed up stepper units or score reel mechanisms.
There are hundreds switch contact points in an EM machine. Usually about one percent of the contacts are dirty or out of adjustment. What happens is the contact will get some dust on it. When the contact opens or closes, it sparks, which turns the dust into carbon. Carbon acts as a resistance, reducing the amount of power flowing through the contact. If the carbon build-up is substantial enough, no current will flow through the connection when the contact closes. Sometimes the current will flow through the contact generating heat, which is my theory on why they get out of adjustment.
The second most common problem is gummed up stepper units or score mechanisms. Usually the manufacturer put a thin layer of grease on the disk contacts. Over time this grease gets dirty and also turns into a sticky gel. The solution for this is to clean/rebuild the steppers.
I often get asked about the value of an EM pinball machine. Looking at the Mr. Pinball 2014 price guide, most EM pinball machines I’ve encountered are worth about $500, give or take, in very good condition. The items that affect the value the most are cosmetic, such as the playfield paint and wear, the backglass paint (which often peels), and the cabinet paint. These are the same things that affect the value of a solid state game, except supply and demand plays a bigger role.
Most of the time, electromechanical pinball machines are worth fixing, especially if the cosmetics are good.