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Pinball is usually one of the great attractions at any arcade or game room. It is one of those arcade games that has stood the test of time and still as popular as it ever was. If you’re planning of creating a man cave or a game room, or you’re simply a pinball enthusiast, then you definitely need a pinball machine.
Getting a used pinball machine in great working condition is a good place to start because you can save some money compared to buying a brand new machine. The process of acquiring a preowned pinball machine can be a complicated one. However, with the right information, you can easily acquire an affordable yet high-quality machine that will serve you well for many decades. This used pinball machine buying guide will help give you an idea of what to expect.
Things to Consider Before Acquiring a Pinball Machine
Pinball machines are heavy and can take up a lot of space. Also, moving them though interior doors can be a hassle. With some machines, the head can be detached from the cabinet for easy transportation. While others need to be moved as one big piece.
How Much Does a Pinball Machine Weigh?
Pinball machines can be quite heavy. On average, expect them to weigh between 200 to 300 pounds – but some machines can weigh even more than that. You will need at least a couple of adults to help move the machine to its final position if you don’t hire professionals to help you out.
Pinball Machine Dimensions
The dimensions of a pinball machine are typically about 32 (width) x 52 (length) x 70 (height) inches. Allow for space around the machine so you can play a game comfortably.
Since the large majority of pinball machines are Solid State machines that use speakers to produce sounds the volume can easily be turned down. For older machines that use bells and whistles, a pinball machine can be very loud, so it’s best to have your used pinball machine in a space where the sound won’t bother anybody.
Price of A Used Pinball Machine
Pinball machines can be costly especially if they are brand new. A quality new machine can cost you around $5,000 or more. A reasonable price or top-rated pinball machine would cost you anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. If you go for a used pinball machine, you can cut cost down by as much as 50 to 70 percent.
The cheapest you should expect to pay for a good quality pinball machine is $200 – $500. Obviously, this is a huge step in the right direction for pinball lovers who don’t have a multi thousand dollar budget. And just because a pinball is affordable doesn’t mean it is in poor condition.
However, if you are being realistic, you should expect to spend $500 to $2000 on a used machine in great working condition. For instance, I spent $1500 on my first pinball machine – the Flash Gordon. This early 80’s classic was manufactured by Bally and released in 1980. Remember, worn-out machines may need some restoration work done on it. Restoring an old machine can push resale value up.
Also, the price of used machines holds up very well in the long run as far as they are well-maintained. A well-maintained classic machine can even cost more in the future than when it does now. This is especially true of rare machines with very limited production numbers. However, do not expect exorbitant selling prices. If you are to sell your used pinball machine down the road, you should expect to recoup much of your initial cost minus shipping, of course.
Types of Used Pinball Machines
There are several types of pinball machines out there. The type of machine usually depends on the year the machine was made. Most pre-1978 machines are Electro-Mechanical pinball machines. SS Machines were produced through the late 1970s to present. SS machines produced after 1990 usually have DMD displays.
Electro-Mechanical pinball machines: The first electromechanical machines were produced by Gottlieb in 1935. Unlike today’s machines that work using microchips, these machines relied on miles of wirings, countless relays & switches, bells, whistles, and a mechanical dial. The electrical hum and the sounds of bells and whistles make this a favorite to many.
The EM machines have a unique feel and sound to it. However, because of the among of wiring, switches, and relays used, these machines can develop faults out of the blues. These can be difficult to pinpoint and fix. Additionally, gameplay isn’t intricate.
Solid-State Machines: These pinball machines rely on circuit boards and microchips instead of wiring, relays, and switches. The microprocessors used enables for complex gameplay. The sounds produced are digital and speakers and vocalizers are used to produce sounds instead of bells and whistles.
The digital sound produced means that SS machines are capable of speech and music. Gameplay usually has a steep learning curve and requires players to hone their skills and get better. Most games from 1978 to now are SS machines. Some SS machines are known as dot matrix display machines. These are usually post-1990 machines.
They have a dot matrix display board that shows the scores as well as low-resolution videos. Fixing an SS machine can be complicated as you may need to replace a damaged circuit board (with the exception of SPIDER chips found on some Gottlieb machines, most circuit boards can be easily replaced.). Additionally, the speakers just aren’t as loud as the bells and whistles used by EM machines. Most used pinball machines on the market are SS machines.
In addition to these types, there are several brands and machines out there. There are, in fact, 1000s of pinball machines on the market. Finding a particular machine can prove challenging. Even the popular and iconic Addams Family machine can be difficult to find and may end up costing you more.
Where to Buy A Used Pinball Machine
Locating a quality used pinball machine can be a challenge if you are looking to cut down cost. There are several ways to buy a used pinball machine. You can buy one using online classifieds such as craigslist. Online marektplaces like eBay are a great place to find used pinball machines . Also, you can acquire the machines from a local shop or collector. Lastly, you can find amazing and rare machines at pinball shows.
- Local Shop or Collector – This is the best option as you get to see and thoroughly inspect the game. Additionally, dealing with the vendor in the flesh is a plus. Lastly, you will also save on shipping costs as the vendor is local. At stores, the prices can be quite high. This is understandable. Also finding a local store can be difficult if you don’t live in a big city.
- Online Classifieds and Auction Sites – If you can’t locate a local shop or collector, the next best solution is to find an auction site. It is best to visit dedicated pinball sites such as www.mrpinball.com. You can also visit forums and message boards. You can place an ad there. EBay is also a great place to find pinball machines although prices tend to be high, and machines tend to be limited.
- Pinball Shows – These are usually held in big cities. If you can attend, it is a great place to find used machines. You get to inspect the machines and have access to candid advices and opinions from experts. Use sites such as pinballcalendar.com, pinballexpo.com, and pinwiki.com to find out where the next show near you would take place.
Inspecting A Used Pinball Machine
Once you have located a machine, you need to make sure to inspect it before purchasing. As an amateur, knowing what to look out for can be tough.
- Play A Game or Two – The first thing you want to do after a visual inspect is to play a game or two. Have the machine plugged in and get a feel for the game. Pay attention to video and audio outputs, the action/performance of the targets, goal-related inserts, and the ramps. Also inspect the bumpers, flippers, lights. Thoroughly inspect the machine before buying.
- Pay Attention to Hard to Replace Parts – While most parts can easily be replaced, some parts are more difficult to replace. Inspect the back glass and ensure it looks good. It shouldn’t have cracks or dings. A crack or ding may seem superficial but these can easily get worse when the machine is being moved around. Replacing the back glass can cost well over $200. Another hard to replace part is the playfield inserts. These are irreplaceable. Also, the playfield light shield is difficult to replace, and will usually cost you about $200. Game-specific playfield objects cannot be easily replaced. An example is the talking head on Funhouse and Road Show. Reproduction parts can be easy to replace especially if the machine is popular. Items such as pop bumper caps can be easily replaced or you can find a different design that works for your machine.
- Cosmetic Appearance – Check to see if the cosmetic appearance of the game is okay. Does the cabinet have large scratches? Is the paintwork chopped in several places? For older machines, do playfield have ball swirl marks? While the aesthetic appearance may not affect gameplay, this can damage the resale price.
- Check for Cracked Ramps – New games have plastic ramps that can break. While replacement ramps can be hard to find, cracked ramps can be repaired. Also, worn-out ramps may not look clear.
- Check The Score Display – Check to see if all the segments light up and are bright. For old Stern and Bally games, displays can be easy to replace. However, Williams System11 games’ displays are expensive. For DMD games, do all the dots light up? A dead dot or line can be an unattractive feature. The DMD scoreboard can be expensive to replace as well. Ask the vendor to replace a damaged dot matrix display or ask for a discount. You may also want to consider other machines with good working displays.
Getting a used pinball machine is always the best place to start. Also, the only way to acquire many classic games is to acquire a preowned machine. As already mentioned, expect to pay a couple thousand dollars at most. Also, thoroughly inspect the machine. Easy to replace parts such as lamps and rubbers should not be a big deal.
More difficult to replace parts such as the back glass ramps and targets need to be in good working condition. Lastly, you will need to ship the machine which can cost you a few hundred dollars. If you buy locally, shipping is much cheaper. If you have a truck, you may be able to move the pinball machine yourself.
Before we go, here are a few online resources to check out:
pinballnews.com (provides recent and relevant pinball news)
mrpinball.com (provides classified ads as well as collectors’ registry)
ipdb.org (a pinball database – contains information and manuals on many pinball machines)
pinwiki.com (contains repair information as well as general information on pinball)
rec.games.pinball.com (a great source of pinball information).