How To Open A Pinball Machine

Pinball machines are constantly in need of repairs and maintenance. Some machines are trickier than others to get open, but they all have the same basic components. Knowing how to open a pinball machine will allow you to save money on repair jobs by doing it yourself.

The 5 steps to open a pinball machine are:

  1. Turn the machine off
  2. Take the glass off the cabinet
  3. Take the playfield out
  4. Open the backbox
  5. Take the backglass out

These 5 steps can be taken by anyone with little mechanical knowledge or skill. Below, we’ll go into more detail on how to do each step, so you can confidently open your pinball machine and make any necessary repairs.

The 5 Steps To Open A Pinball Machine

1. Turn The Machine Off

To start opening a cabinet and get to the glass, you’ll need a key to open the coin box. You can either pick the lock or drill the lock, but drilling might be very dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Many machines have very high voltage going on inside the cabinet that will be shut off when you use a key opening the door.

When drilling, the voltage can still be activated and can seriously harm or even kill you if you’re not careful. It’s therefore a good idea to unplug the machine before you start working on it. If there are electrical components you need to replace, try to identify them before going into machine.

2. Take The Glass Off The Cabinet

Taking out the cabinet glass will allow you to access the playfield to either go under it for repairs or clean the surface. To start you want to open the coin box with the key and find the handle on the top right. Once you locate the handle, you’ll pull it to the left and that will pop the metal plate where you rest your hand.

Different Machines

Some older Gottlieb machines have a bar in the middle of the box that you’ll need to pull down. In order to close the backbox you’ll have to move the handle back into its original position. Some will be spring loaded where you will need to hold it back as you pop the metal plate up.

Newer Stern machines have a two-latch system. These are located on both sides inside the coin box that just need to be lifted up. Once the plate is lifted, you can take it off and move it to a safe position.

Now you’ll have access to the glass. All you need to do is pull it towards you and let it slide all the way out, making sure you have a good grip of it at all times. Place that in a very safe position as they can easily crack or shatter.

Early 1970s Bally machines sometimes have a metal frame around the glass. You won’t be able to slide it out of the machine but instead you’ll just have to lift it up towards the backglass. Once you have the glass off you can access the playfield for repairs or cleaning.

1970 Bally Big Valley lifted glass to work on playfield – Photo Courtesy of John Gray at IPDB

3. Take The Playfield Out

When taking out the playfield you want to be very careful, making sure you’re not going to bump any parts. This is because a lot of these parts are coils, lights or wires that can be easily knocked out of place or broken.

Take The Balls Out

Before you lift out the whole field you are going to want to take out all the balls in the game. This will ensure that when you lift the playfield from the cabinet, no balls are going to move down and break anything.

First, grab the field on the apron placing your fingers down the drain. This will allow you to pull up on the field a couple inches to find where the ball kickout mechanism is. Next, you’ll flip the balls into the shooter lane so you can grab them all and place them down.

Now that your hand is holding the apron over the drain, you can lift the field above the cabinet. You’re going to need to look under the field to see if there are any hinges or if it’s free to be pulled out.

Older games can be lifted and leaned back onto the backbox, while newer Bally’s and William’s machines, after The Addams Family, will have hooks on the side. If this is the case, you can pull the machine toward you until you hear it click into the cabinet. This will let you lift the machine towards the backbox.

Support Rods

Both of these styles will usually have a rod you can lift to hold the bottom of the playfield up, like when you open a car hood. But these shouldn’t be used for long periods of time, as they’re only on one side and can end up warping the table if you leave them raised for too long.

Some games only allow you to rotate the field against the backbox, while some you can pull out after disconnecting some wires. Most machines will have handles underneath them to help you move them.

4. Open The Backbox

If you don’t have a key for the backbox, check on the door of the coin box. Most of the time the key will be hanging on a hook in the coin box. If it’s not there, you may have to search the cabinet as it may have moved during transportation. Sometimes the key will be screwed into the cabinet at the bottom or the side, but if this is not the case, drilling or lock picking will work.

On old EM machines you can try a screwdriver if you can’t find a key for the backbox and don’t want to drill the lock. You’ll turn the lock as you would any other key, turning to left to open and right to lock. After you open the panel, you can use your manual or guide to figure out if there are any repairs needed.

5. Take The Backglass Out

If the backglass has cracked or if you want to touch it up, you might need to grab the glass out of the backbox. Luckily, if you have the backbox open, old EM machines will have four metal pins holding the backglass on each corner.

Old Bally and Stern machines have a lock on the top right holding the backglass in place. There should be a key to unlock it, but you might need to drill the lock out. This is very dangerous though, as the shaking from the drill can crack the glass. This is why picking the lock – if you don’t have the key – is always the better option.

Keep The Glass Safe

If you need to access the glass from the front, you’ll need to push up on the glass until it touches the top of the box. You need to pull the glass out so it goes over the rim of the back box. After you get the glass over the rim, you can slide it down and it should be free to move. Place the glass in a safe space as they are very hard to replace.

You use the same process for the translite in a backbox. Some old machines that have wooden backboxes will have hinges so you can access the back glass without taking it out the front.

Final Thoughts

While pinball machines can vary in shape and size, these 5 steps will get you into most of them. As long as you’re careful and don’t rush anything, you should be able to open up your pinball machine without any fuss or damage. This can make it much easier to repair or clean your machine, which can save you time and money waiting for and paying someone else to do it for you!