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  Getting Your Own!

So, you've seen the machines on my site, read my story, and think you want one too? Then here's how to go about it! But first things first.

What to Consider Before Buying a Pinball Machine

First, you need space. Space is so essential when you want to have a pinball machine! If you consider putting it in your living room, you have to make sure that your roommate/partner and you can live with such a beast standing behind your back while you sit in front of the TV or computer. A pinball machine is actually larger (taller!) than you'd probably expect. Friends of mine came into my room looking at the things and said, "wow, so huge?!" A pinball machine is normally close to two meters tall with the backbox, so watch what you have hanging from your ceiling. It also takes about 80 cm of width and 150 cm of depth in your room. Of course a single machine looks best when standing in an edge, be it aligned to one of the walls or coming out of the edge at 45 degrees. If you think about multiple machines, definitely make sure that you don't only have space to park them all in, but also estimate how much space will be sacrificed that you normally use to walk about. Example: putting Pin*Bot / Black Knight 2000 next to The Machine resulted in great loss of space since the area that was now occupied by The Machine was empty before. It takes some getting used to.
Of course the best thing you can have is a clean, dry and electrified basement in your house (it will be troublesome in a flat). Some people even rent space for their machines because they have so many.

Another thing to consider is, what kind of machine do you want? Are you searching for the "good old pinball feeling" from the early 80s? Then get one of the cult classics from the early electronics or advanced electronics games. This also saves you some money because many of them go for 200-400 in Europe (I refer to Germany since I live there, but overall Europe is similar). The situation is different in the USA where pinball games cost a lot more than here, especially if they are old.
If you want to get a more recent machine from the late 80s or the 90s, you should look on price resource sites or on eBay to find a model that suits your taste of theme, complexity and action, versus price. Roughly, late 80s machines cost from 250 to 500 Euros (where 500 is for collectors' items) and DMD games (1991 and newer) go anywhere from 300 to 4000. Commonly, there are some late 90s models which are very popular among the fans of DMD machines, namely Medieval Madness, Monster Bash, Cirqus Voltaire, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Scared Stiff, Tales of the Arabian Nights and some others. Those models will cost you 1000 Euros and up - of course you can find some in a condition that needs help for less than this price, but if you want a working machine from those titles, plan to spend bet-ween 1000 and 2000 for the "usual" models and up to 3500 for the really advanced games. The technology and complexity in them plus their young age justifies such prices most of the time even if they seem horrendous. (However, didn't you too think that a pinball game cost thousands of bucks before you knew better? ;-)
Of course it's best to PLAY some games in order to judge which one will be your first except when you already have a game in mind (like I had The Machine from my childhood memory) or if you want to be surprised (which went wrong with my F-14). You can also try hunting the web or your local newspaper ads for the cheapest possible machine available, but keep in mind that there are some ugly games out there, and if you get a good one for a low price, make sure you can deal with the damage done to it - you don't want to have your first game stand around for half a year until you gained the experience to fix it! As a thumb rule I'd recommend getting one of the games that every fan can name you instantly because they are so popular, and if you choose one of those popular games from the 80s / early 90s instead of the later 90s, you might find a good deal for a couple hundred bucks for a working machine. Good luck!

Places to Get a Pin

I already answered that question above: eBay is probably the place to start looking if you're inexperienced because it will often result in fairer prices than going to an old arcade and trying to make them sell their Black Knight to you because they will recognize your beginner grade and rip you off (there are exceptions, but I've heard of none). Otherwise it's also a good idea to become a member of one or several of the Internet pinball fan communities (forums) and ask for a good offer there. See the "Links" section for details.
If you have your eyes on a special game, estimate how much the transport will cost depending on the distance the game is away from you. Preferably choose a game near you since then you might also be able to sample play it before buying. Sample playing can be very rewarding since you normally won't want to buy a pinball game without even knowing what it plays like, what it sounds like etc. It's like downloading a PC game demo and trying that for free before spending money on a full game you dislike. There is also the alternative of playing a virtual simulation of your game on your computer named Visual Pinball, however it's never the same like playing the real thing. See the "Visual Pinball" section for info.


This one's tricky. If you want to pick up a machine not too far from you, or if you don't mind driving long distances, you need a car with a big trunk that's combined with the rear seats. Preferably the car should have rear seats that can be taken out or folded because you will need all space up to the front seats. Of course, a transporter or van will always be better.
If you want to get the game shipped by a company, you need to find one which still agrees on shipping pinball machines because many don't do it anymore for security reasons, or if they do, it costs you a lot. Some select German shipping firms still do it for a nice price, but I cannot comment on foreign shipping. Again, asking the community is the best help.

For security reasons, it would be wise to remove the balls from the ball trough first before transportation since they could slide out and fly around in the machine otherwise, damaging parts on the playfield. Remove the lockdown bar at the front by opening the coin door and unlocking the hatch, then lift the bar up to make way for the playfield glass to slide out to the front. Be careful not to bend the glass while removing it and let it stand only on a soft floor surface (like a carpet) leaned against a wall or object. You now have access to the play-field. With the machine (naturally) turned off, reach into the cabinet through the coin door frame and move your hand to the right edge, searching for the ball trough's shooter lane feeder. On Williams machines before 1993, it is a semi-circle made of metal that has a spring and magnetic coil attached to it right under the shooter lane. It throws the balls into the shooter lane, which you will do by hand now to get the balls out of the trough. Simply grab the metal arc and move it forward with some force and a ball should come out of the trough and appear on the shooter lane. On Williams games from 1993 and later, the lane feeder is directly visible when you open the coin door; it is a coil with a plunger and spring on the lower end that points upwards to the playfield. To get the balls out of this system, simply push the plunger upwards with strong force and it will kick a ball out to the shooter lane. On both systems, remove the ball and repeat the process until all balls are out. Then install the playfield glass and lockdown bar again and close the coin door. Keep the balls safe since you will put them back into the machine after transportation, simply by throwing them directly onto the playfield where they will roll down into the trough.

the Williams shooter lane feeder before 1993the new Williams shooter lane feeder after 1993

You will need to fold the backbox so it lays on top of the playfield glass and the siderails. This is the only way to transport a pinball machine; it is prohibited to transport a game with an erect backbox! Damage will occur if you attempt to do this.
Folding the backbox often requires you to unlock the backglass, take it out and untie the screws inside the backbox which hold it in place. After that, reinstall the backglass, lock it and unlock the metal clip behind the backbox which holds it firmly upright. You can now fold the backbox to the front. Make sure you reinstall the holding screws after the transport! If you need to disassemble the backbox from the cabinet (which is required for really old games since they have no folding mechanism), remember that all machines with System 11 and up have no main connectors for the wiring between the backbox and the cabinet, so you'll have to unplug all connectors from the boards inside the backbox and let the wires fall into the cabinet. Then you can unscrew the links which hold the backbox to the cabinet and remove it. Mark the connectors with numbers so you know which connector goes where.
If you don't use a transporter, you have to remove the four metal legs under the cabinet. This can be done alone, but handles much better with a second person around. Let the person hold one end of the machine (start with the rear for best results), unscrew the rear legs and remove them, then move the rear end of the cabinet down to the ground and turn the whole machine on its back. Yes, this is completely safe since the back was made for floor contact! You can see four white plastic caps on it which are made for sliding on the floor, and everyone does the leg screwing this way. Once the machine stands upright, remove the front legs and off it goes. Don't forget to take the legs and leg screws with you!

If the power cord can be moved into the cabinet, do so and it won't hinder you when carrying the machine. Speaking of carrying, you have to have a helping hand or two with you when picking up a machine since they roughly weigh 100 to 130 kilograms and carrying alone is impossible. Also try to avoid a transport which ends on the fourth floor where your flat is. Carrying a pinball machine over stairs is tough! It might also scratch the cabinet and backbox artwork if you're not careful. This is also why you should use plastic film packaging for cushioning and protecting the machine when using a shipping company. They usually want to have the whole machine with the folded backbox and the legs attached to the floor of the cabinet all nicely packed in plastic film as one part. This will be levelled onto a palette and carried into the truck of the company. Once the machine arrives at the destination, you'll face the unpacking process which can be very exciting (almost like Xmas), but might need the help of a second person.

Final Words

Getting your own pinball machine can be so rewarding. If you choose the right model, you'll be "in" for further years to come, and so many people who only wanted one machine have been infected by the pinball bug and started collecting and repairing games. It's what I do now although I never planned to do this, and especially not in such a short time. And look what you are reading now!

© 2005 Maximilian Schulz - Williams, Bally, Gottlieb and all other names, all pinball games and software mentioned on this site are trademarks of their respective owners.