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While pinball machines are typically not the cheapest of purchases, it is always a great option to purchase a used one. If you keep seeing references to a shopped pinball machine and you’re confused, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
What does it mean for a pinball machine to be “shopped”? The definition of a “shopped” pinball machine will vary from person to person. The most average description is a machine that has been cleaned, repaired, and restored to a like-new condition.
Read on to learn more about shopped pinball machines, how to buy a used one, and how to restore your own machine.
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What Does a “Shopped” Pinball Machine Mean?
In the pinball machine world, many definitions float around to describe a “shopped” pinball machine. The simplest definition is to clean the used pinball machine thoroughly, replace broken parts, and make adjustments as necessary. The goal of shopping a used machine is to restore it and make it look as good as it did the day it was manufactured.
Although a good shop job takes a lot of hard work, it is worth the time and effort. Even the oldest, dirtiest, most unattractive machines can make a 180 after a good restoration.
The amount of detail you go into when performing a shop job is a matter of opinion.
- For some, “shopped” is a simple cleaning and testing of the machine. Many consider that to just be general machine maintenance.
- “Restored,” then, will mean someone has fixed, repaired, and rebuilt a used machine as needed.
However, these definitions change depending on who you talk to. Some of the lines between shopped and restored will blur and the words will often be used interchangeably.
A complete tune-up for the machine includes taking it apart, diagnosing any issues, and completely cleaning the interior and exterior. This job is not only useful for professional pinball shop owners; it is also a crucial part of owning a vintage pinball machine. When you start collecting and restoring pinball machines, you should learn how to perform regular maintenance on them.
What is Done to a Shopped Pinball Machine?
When sellers perform a shop job on a pinball machine, here are some of the improvements they make:
- Restoring the cabinet with a repainting job or new decals
- Repinning old plugs and fixing cold joints in the mechanisms
- Applying wax to the playfield
- Rebuilding the flippers
- Replacing the rubber rings
- Replacing light bulbs
- Thoroughly cleaning the interior and exterior
- Testing the game to check for functional issues
Why is a buying a shopped pinball so important? A full shop can help make sure your machine is clean and that it functions properly in every respect. Regular gameplay on a pinball machine can tend to collect dust and wear down parts. These dust particles and pieces of metal from the machine’s parts can eventually break off and get distributed into the playfield. With improper care, this dust will collect and impact the playability of the game.
If you have a machine with a partial shop job, like if only the top of the machine was cared for, your machine may not last as long. You may only be able to play a few games before the parts start getting dirty, sticky, or dusty again.
Shopped machines should be ready to plug in and play right away. You should not have to perform any further repairs after purchasing a machine from a certified reseller or pinball restoration expert.
But since the definition of a shopped pinball machine is fluid, you should check with the seller on what exactly has been done to the machine before you buy it. It’s better to ask questions than to be surprised when you get the machine home.
What to Look for in a Used Pinball Machine
Getting into the hobby of pinball machines can often get a little pricey. New pinball machines can cost, on average over, $5,000. If you are not ready to spend that much on a machine, you can find some good options in used ones.
It is often more financially beneficial and even more rewarding to purchase a used pinball machine. These devices come with their own history, and you can get the feeling of nostalgia when playing on a vintage machine. Also, used machines will have a character that is unique from many other machines—even compared to those from the same manufacturer.
Pinball machine restorers or resellers will use the terms “shopped,” “restored,” “refurbished,” or others to describe their used machine for sale. These terms will each have their own definitions that vary from person to person. That is why it’s important to know what to look for when purchasing a used machine.
Before you make a purchase, it’s important to first learn the options you have and the features of each. Here are some details about the three main types of pinball machines.
- Solid State (SS): These machines are probably among the most popular because they combine the vintage appeal of pinball machines with easy electronic features and controls. Their electronic micro compressor controls the digital sound and scoring on these modern machines. Although these machines are electric, they will still come with mechanical flippers, pop bumpers, and slingshots.
- Dot Matrix Display (DMD): These pinball machines, introduced in the early 1990s, are a step up from SS pinball machines. DMDs are solid state machines with a more advanced setup. The DMD is a box held in the machine’s cabinet with a plasma screen that displays points scored and often low-resolution video.
- Electro-Mechanical (EM): These are the original, mechanical machines that were first introduced to players and manufactured until the 1970s. These games’ functions are run by mechanical reels and relays, which are controlled by a score motor. Because these machines are a little more old-fashioned, it takes a lot more knowledge and expertise to maintain all their moving parts.
In our modern age, there are now also LCD pinball machines available. These machines are similar to the DMD, but have a larger, more advanced LCD screen. They can display high-quality graphics and animations. These machines have grown in popularity in the past few years. You may see some of these in your local arcade.
Where should you buy a used pinball machine?
There may be local retail stores in most areas that sell used machines. You can also search online databases like Craigslist or Facebook. If you know of a local pinball league in your area, you may be able to connect with either someone who restores and sells used pinballs or someone who knows someone who does.
Whoever you buy a machine from, they should be able to give you a list of the complete work that was done on the machine. This can be like the CarFax for your pinball machine. Many pin restoration experts are passionate about the work they do and will be proud to share information about the work they did. If a seller is hesitant to discuss the nature of their repairs on the machine, that may be an indicator of a shoddy job.
If you are inquiring about a shopped pinball online, make sure to ask for pictures of many angles of the machine. Ask for close-ups and detailed images of the mechanisms within the machine. This can give you a preview of the machine’s condition.
Then, when you meet in-person to take a look at the machine, you can test it out, get a closer look at its parts, and ask the seller questions about the restoration job.
Most pinball machines are hand built, which means they have tons of little moving parts. Each of these can be a little difficult to keep track of when you’re first getting started with this hobby. It can be a challenge to inspect every single part while deciding on a machine to buy. Here are some common things you should check out and keep in mind before making a purchase:
Check Its Overall Functionality
If you are buying a used pinball machine, you want it to be able to perform its main function, running the game properly. Before making a purchase of a used machine, make sure to play the game to test it out. This is an easy way to see how well it works.
It is also a good idea to ask to play it multiple times in a row. Sometimes you have to play it a few times before noticing any problems with the machine. Watch out for issues with scoring points correctly. Make sure all of the parts are working properly. Inspect the pop bumpers, vertical upkicks, switches, and other main game functions.
Inspect the Back Glass
In addition to checking the basic functions of the machine, you also want to inspect the appearance of the back glass. Before purchasing, it is a good idea to check the condition of this part. It is often one of the most difficult pieces to replace. That is because not all reproductions are compatible with every machine.
Ask the seller if you can open it up so you can see behind the back glass. On solid state machines, make sure to check the batteries. You do not want batteries that have started to leak and cause issues within the machine. Avoid machines with corrosion.
If the back glass cabinet is clean and neat, it can be an indicator that the owner has taken good care of it over the years. Consider it a good find!
View the Playfield Close-up
The main part of the machine is the playfield. You want to check out this part up close to make sure it is in good working condition. As the main playing area for the game, it is what players will focus their gaze on as they enjoy a few rounds. It should be flat and smooth with an attractive appearance. Avoid buying a used machine that has missing inserts or bare wood showing through.
You can also ask the owner if you can look under the playfield. This inspection can give you a clue into how the machine has been maintained. Check for obvious signs of wear and tear. Look to see if any of the coils have paper that has been burned down or are crispy from too much heat. Also, you should make sure that there are no dangling wires anywhere. That can be both dangerous and a headache to fix.
Check out the Cabinet
Last, make sure to inspect the cabinet while you are shopping for a used machine. The cabinet of your used pinball will not necessarily have a negative impact on playability, but it does contribute to the machine’s overall appearance. You want a machine that has been well taken care of and adds a fun appearance to your home—not an eyesore.
It is a good idea to examine the machine’s joints and corners while inspecting the cabinet. Look for cracking or separation that could indicate the machine was dropped or damaged. Avoid purchasing a machine whose cabinet is falling apart.
How to Restore (Shop) a Pinball Machine
Used and vintage pinball machines require careful attention and maintenance to increase their longevity. Performing a good shop job on a used pin can make a great difference in its appearance and playability.
Because there are varying definitions for what a “shopped” machine is, the methods to approach this task will vary as well. Your goal is to make the machine look as new as possible. This will take a lot of time, depending on your experience, but it is well worth the effort.
Steps to Shop (Restore) Your Pinball Machine
Depending on the machine you purchase and decide to restore, the process can take a while. The first generation of electronic games tend to have a more simple maintenance routine, while modern games can take up to two full days of work. You may even want to dedicate up to 40 hours for the more complicated machines. Fortunately, many tools like electric screwdrivers and buffing machines can help you quicken the process.
Because many shop techniques can be a tad advanced, it is best to do as much research and learning before you get started. Never take apart a machine that you do not know how to put back together!
Start by learning from and consulting with professionals before attempting to restore your first machine. Research the parts you need and the equipment that will help you clean each of them properly.
First, gather your cleaning products:
- Playfield cleaner
- Wax remover
- Glass cleaner
- Plastic cleaner
- Plastic scratch remove
- Stainless steel cleaner
- Playfield polish
- Chrome polish
- Playfield wax
Then, follow these steps when “shopping” (restoring) your used pinball machine:
- Strip the top side to clean every inch of the playfield. Take the time to polish the pieces as needed. Some pin experts recommend using a Magic Eraser with a small amount of alcohol on it.
- Clean the lamps and bulbs, as well as tunnels and ball ramps. Try to reach and clean everything the ball will come in contact with.
- Check the underside of the machine to diagnose whether any inserts need repair, cleaning, or replacing. Wipe down the harness, then reassemble the underside.
- Clean and fix any targets that need it.
- Re-ring the game if necessary, then reassemble the top side.
- Rebuild the flipper.
- After these repairs, try out a test game.
Through the restorations, you should work carefully to note any parts that need repair or replacement as you go. Here are some more tips to keep in mind:
- Turn off the machine when you are moving its parts. You do not want to risk damaging your electrical connection if anything happens while the machine is still powered on.
- Utilize the best tools for the job. Do not skimp on using quality tools like sanding, soldering, and painting tools. These can make a big difference in the quality of your work.
- Take notes and pictures as you work. Making note of the parts you remove, clean, or repair can help you reassemble it after the shop job is done.
- Keep your playfield clean and smooth. Old pinballs can succumb to wear. They can end up acting like sandpaper and damage the playfield if there is too much scuffing on your ball. Replace these old balls as you see fit.
- Learn how to pack, store, and move your machine safely. Many machines get damaged after people neglect to learn how to store and move it properly. Avoid this by learning the best practices first.
A good shopped machine should not have any broken light bulbs, worn rubbers, or anything that would impact the game’s main functions. Properly shopped machines should be able to work properly on their own for the first year of ownership.
However, after that, you need to be able to regularly care for your machine. Clean and wax your playfield once a year, and replace your rubber rings whenever they start to show wear and tear or start to get dirty.
Restore the Playfield
Want to learn more about restoring the playfield of your pinball machine? Check out this video below with specific instructions.
Pinball machines are a great addition to your home’s game room. These long-time favorites are enjoyed by players of all ages and can provide hours of excitement. It can be tons of fun shopping for and collecting different pinball games. When you shop for used and vintage pinball machines, however, it’s important to know what to look for.
Make sure to keep these tips in mind when searching for the perfect “shopped” (restored) pinball machine and ask the right questions. You’ll soon be on your way to playing and restoring pinball machines full-time!