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let’s wreck some road!

20 June 2006 1,999 views 6 Comments

red and ted heads

Our ST:TNG pinball machine still isn’t back from the repair shop yet and we weren’t ready to give up the 2nd machine, so last weekend the weekend before last we swapped out the Addams Family for Red and Ted’s Roadshow. Despite the fact that it has these creepy talking heads (the eyes follow the ball around!) it’s a wicked fun machine.

I pestered the Husband to write up a post to try and answer all the pinball questions that came up last time and gem that he is, he finished it same day. (I didn’t post it same day, but that’s my procrastination, not his) So without further ado (titled by me)

What To Do If You Want To Own Your Own Pinball Machine, by The Husband.

  1. Go play a lot of pinball locally if possible.
  2. Make a shortlist of machines you want. Ideally have a clear-cut number one favorite with a backup or two.
  3. Decide where it’s going to live in your space.
  4. Research, research, research. Find out what your machine(s) are selling for, if they’re well suited to home use and who your local vendors are.
  5. Decide if you want to deal with someone long-distance or a local seller.
  6. Do everything you can to play the machine before buying it.
  7. Confirm state of machine and if it’s been shopped, what the parts replacement history is. Ask for documentation.
  8. Determine a return policy and if there’s a window to return it.
  9. Get it home (no mean feat.)
  10. Play the living heck out of the first few days to make sure it’s all in working order.
  11. Invite friends over, drink beer, play, repeat.
  12. Give it regular maintenance and love.

star wars and red & ted

1. First things first – go play a ton of pinball. Find as many machines in town that you can and drop quarters in left and right. I know at least two people who were gung ho to buy machines but after realizing there were still places to play a game or two over a beer they changed their minds.

2. I believe folks should have a machine in mind before they start looking. You want a machine you’re going to love just looking at in your room. There may be months when you don’t even go near the thing but you smile knowing you have an old favorite sitting there, patiently waiting for you. Getting a machine you lose interest in is lose-lose, because then you’ve gotta unload it and you’ll be tempted to take a loss. Pinball machines are not investments, they hold their value but there’s no standard rate of increase.

3. It sounds funny, but figure out where it will go NOW. Know that you have the space and you can get it in and out easily. You’re going to wind up with a big machine in the middle of your space, just be aware of it. There’s nothing worse than getting a machine and realizing that now you can’t get to your bookcase or open the window behind it.

4. There are a ton of resources online, so start looking all over for comps on your machine. Look at national sellers, what the machine is fetching on eBay and local auctions. Check the pinball newsgroups, which are active, for news, comments and all that good stuff. It may be the machine you want is a total pain to have because something keeps breaking and needs a stack of replacement parts or elbow grease.

5. There are reputable sellers across the country but there’s something itchy about not being able to stand in front on the machine and get a feel for it. The machine may be in great shape but until you play a few games you’ll never know if the playfield has a groove that makes the upper scoop shot almost impossible.

6. If you do buy local, ask to come by and give a few plays. Most sellers are going to encourage this, because they can explain what works, doesn’t and what they’ve done. Most folks selling a machine will have valuable info on it, where it came from and all that good stuff. A pinball machine is a complicated machine, and you wouldn’t skimp on asking if that used car has been in the shop?

Give the machine a real going over, there are many things you can catch with a simple scan but others need a closer look. Look around the flippers, bumpers, scoops and area where the ball immediately enters the field of play (often an arch or curve at the top of the playfield.) Are there grooves, pits or other defects? A play or two will reveal if the game play is affected by such things but you want to know what to look for when you play.

7. Ask what repairs the machine has, when they were done and if there is documentation. When  you take a machine apart, give it an overhaul and cleaning it’s referred to as ‘being shopped’ and your future happiness may rely on how good the shopping is. You want connections cleaned, rubbers replaced, switches tested and wiring repaired, etc. It’s time-consuming and almost always worth it for a nonenthusiast. If someone can’t or won’t explain in detail what was done then you might want to walk away from the game. It’s just good business. I can’t imagine anyone who takes pinball seriously who can’t go into detail on what was done and when. Again, these are standard questions for any complicated piece of machinery you’d buy.

8. Again, complicated machine, what’s your protection if you get it home and suddenly the display goes out or something else that is going to be a total pain to replace.

red and ted's road show

9. If you are buying from a dealer it shouldn’t be a problem. If you aren’t consider calling a local dealer because they’ll have (a) experience moving machines and (b) the equipment to get it into your place. It’s worth paying a little cash to have it set up in 15 minutes and you’re not nursing sore muscles.

10. Fire up four-player mode and beat the heck out of it. Make sure everything is copasetic after the move. Don’t worry about the score, just focus on hitting shots, loops and all that good stuff.

11. I don’t need to elaborate on this, do I?

12. If the machine was cleaned and shopped before you bought it you should be fine with just cleaning the playfield regularly. One other random thing that sounds dirtier than it is – clean your balls. Dirty, nasty balls can ruin a playfield faster in the blink of an eye. Take the balls out, give ’em a shine and you should be just fine. There are lots of other little things to worry about but that’s for another day.

Right now you should just be enjoying your game. Call me in six months and we’ll talk about all that other good stuff.


  • Susan said:

    This is very useful information! Well presented. But how often must you clean your balls?

  • The Husband said:

    Wow, you’ve touched on a great question.
    There’s been a LOT of discussion about this over the years but no one has really defined how much is ‘too much.’ I know more than a few people who swear by regular maintenance and upkeep but an equal amount warn that too much really impairs game play.
    You want the best experience for you, so it’s a personal call. You’ll know when things aren’t as they should be and make the decision. Sometimes they don’t even need a deep cleaning; more often than not a quick buff and a few swipes will do the job. You don’t need complicated equipment and materials – do it by hand and you’ll be happy with the results.
    The other angle is, do you have someone else clean them if you can’t? I mean, I’ve had machines shopped before but I’ve never trusted this task to anyone but myself. You have to ask “Will they do as good a job as I would? Will they show the same care I do? What happens if they nick or scratch them?” Things to think about as you sit there looking at the task ahead.
    Good luck!

  • caro (author) said:

    Heh. You guys are dirrrrrrty.

  • jenny r said:

    That’s what I was thinking! I mean…um…er…whatever do you mean?

  • sunflowerfairy said:

    I bet my husband would *kill* for a Simpson’s machine. Heeehee. Little does he know that I’d kick his butt playing it.

  • Sheila said:

    Gees, that sounds like my husband talking about his pool table!

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