Thursday, January 5, 2012

I've recently finished creating a Flynn's Sign to be installed into a Tron Pinball machine.  If you are interested in ordering, you can order through the link below.



** If this is an international order, send me an e-mail and I will send you an invoice with the additional International shipping cost.

Order Flynn's Sign

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Switch Matrix

Switches go on and off.  There are two leads and a diode.  What's not to get?

It can be confusing to someone new to the hobby.  Matrix questions come up all the time on RGP.  I hope to help clarify the switch and light matrix here with an example and an illustration.

The system 11 board can support up to 64 switches.  If you were to wire that conventionally, that is to say a wire going to the switch and a wire coming back from the switch, you would end up with 128 wires.  Also, to manage the wires you would want them to be different colors.  You could get away with 64 colors, but it would be easier to have 128 colors to signify 1 color for a "To the switch" wire and another color for a "From the switch" wire.

For the switches alone, you would have 128 wires, and then you would have to add another 128 for the lights.  You can see where this might become confusing and expensive for the manufacturers.  So what they adopted for the switches (and the lights) is a matrix.

You create an 8 by 8 matrix (grid).  8 colors on the X axis and 8 colors on the Y axis.  This gives you 64 intersections.  Like the game battleship.
What the game CPU does is checks each intersecting X and Y to see if that switch is closed.  It doesn't do it all at once.  It scans them.  Is the Green/Brown wire connected to the White/Brown Wire?  Is the Green/Brown wire connected to the White/Red wire?  Is the Green/Brown wire connected to the White/Green wire?  1,1 then 1,2 then 1,3 then 1,4 etc.
Here is the Switch Matrix diagram from F-14 Tomcat, however you'll find this diagram in many more pinball manuals.  

 What I've done is highlighted a single switch in yellow.  The Upper Right "C" target.  What have we learned from this diagram that will help us with troubleshooting?

Look at what I highlighted in yellow and note the color of the wires.  There is a wealth of information here. 
  1. Looking at the Upper Right C Target under the pinball playfield, it should have a Green/Violet and White/Blue wire.  Make certain that this is the case and that the wires are connected properly.
  2. On the MPU board, the White/Blue wire should go to connector J10, pin 6.  Make certain that this is the case and that the wire is connected well.
  3. On the MPU board, the Green/Violet wire should go to connector J8 pin 7.  Make certain that this is the case and that the wire is connected well.
  4. You should check to see if all of the other switches on the White/Blue wire work.
    • If for example, the Left Center Eject switch works but the Lower Ramp, Lower Right "C", etc switches do not work, then there may be a broken wire between the Left Center Eject switch and the Lower Ramp switch.
  5. You should check to see if all of the other switches on the Green/Violet wire work.
    • If for example, the Upper Right "T" target works, but the Upper Right "A" target does not work as well as the Upper Right "C" target, the "Kill Gen. Yagov" switch, etc do not work, then it may be a broken wire between the Upper Right "T" target and the Upper Right "A" target.
  6. Check the diodes on the switches for the string that does not work.  It's possible that a downstream diode, or the diode on the Upper Right "C" target itself is bad.
  7. If the whole column of switches is not working and the wires and connectors are all sound, on the MPU board, transistor Q42 should be tested.

The same design applies to the lights.  And by lights I mean the special lights, not the general illumination lights.  As a quick review: General Illumination lights (GI) are not controlled individually.  Those are the lights that all turn on at once, and all turn off at the same time.  It's the accent lighting.

The special lights are on a matrix like the switches.  The CPU scans through the connections and if the Lower "C" Light should be on, it briefly sends a pulse through the two wires to light that individual light.  
  • As an aside, I'm not sure exactly how this works.  I imagine it connects one wire to ground and connects the other wire to a current source.  I'll have to look into that, but it's not important at this point.  We're looking for bad transistors, wires, and diodes right now.
This information allows you take a more methodical approach to troubleshooting the problem.  Also, you'll spend less time digging around through wires and wondering where they lead to next.

It also lets you into the designer's head a little and I hope demystifies an aspect of the hundreds of feet of wire.  Also, this design is common in many, many games.  Understanding this concept will allow you to quickly attack problems without even having to resort to a manual.

And the blog wakes up again, like a horror movie monster.

Recently, I was asked by someone who found this blog why I didn't blog anymore.  My answer was, I was kind of done with this project, but I always meant to continue in some other way.  I'll be trying to figure out a way to put this blog in some other format that can be indexed by subjects like, "Rebuilding Flippers", "Rebuilding Targets", etc.
 Mark asked me, (Oh, his name is Mark, Hi Mark!) some questions about pinball as he was new to the hobby.  It sparked something for me.  I have learned a ton and demystified many subjects for myself.  However, I'm still new enough to remember those things that completely had me confused at first.

Thus, I start phase two of this blog.  Explaining stuff that will help a beginner better understand how a pinball machine works.  Understanding these concepts will really cut down on troubleshooting time and costly mistakes.

Things like:

How does a coil work in the context of a pinball machine?
What is a switch/light matrix?
What resources are available to me to learn about [Soldering, Electronics, Buying a pinball machine, etc]
My display is out, how do I tell what I need to re-order?  Why would I buy an LED replacement?
LEDs are cool, why are they flickering?  How do I make it stop?
I brushed away all of the bad looking stuff that leaked from my batteries, do I really have to do more to fix it?

And other stuff I remember as I go along.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Into the sunset

And this, my friends, is it for a while.  The F-14 is done, for now.  Is it perfect?  Not at all.  However, it's in very nice shape, everything works, all of the parts are there, and it's 1000% better than when I got it.

I had some pretty lofty goals when I started.  Make it perfect.  Factory perfect.  Better than factory perfect.  Knowing next to nothing, it didn't seem unreasonable to shoot for the moon.  Like many of these projects, you start out and wonder, "How hard can it be?  Especially if I'm determined!"

Well, it's hard.  This week it will be 9 months since I started and in that time, I've met a few dozen really great people.  I've traveled 4 different states to find parts, machines, and pinball shows.  I've had the privledge of unboxing a new machine with a new friend, and I've seen how even a brand new machine is imperfect.

Chad and I had the goal of finding a few machines.  I think we thought it would be great to have maybe 3 machines each to work on over the past 9 months.  We've done much better than that.  I've purchased 7 machines and sold 2.  Chad has found 7 machines, and sold one.

This has been a great experience, and I'm so happy to be done.  I was afraid it would end up like other hobbies of mine, where it was fun at first, but then got old and I was done with the hobby before the year was over.  While I may be done detailing my repair efforts on pinball machines, I'm not done with pinball.

I have tournaments to enter, I have my first DMD machine to purchase (Dot matrix display -- basically a more modern game that is expensive), I have a few more machines to clean up, and then Chad and I have to do what we originally set out to do -- Start selling games.

Selling games, just to feed the habit.  You have to be a special person to make a living doing this.  However, I would like to get those fancy games that cost $3,500 each.  The way to do that is to buy a game for $300, fix it up, and then sell it for $1,000.  All the while having fun, meeting people, playing pinball.

Thanks for reading this blog.  I'm not sure what my next updates will be or when, but I'm sure I'll have something to say every month or so.

Here is my current basement lineup.  The F-14 is truely my first shopped machine.  The other three in this shot were purchased with a little more experience and savvy.  They worked pretty well when I got them, all there is to do is to clean them up and play them.

F-14, Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man, High Speed, Space Station

One last pass on those slingshots and pop bumper

Unfortunately, no pictures on this post.  Entering the home stretch, I put the playfield back in, put the old head on, connected the wires, and it all worked beautifully -- Except for the slingshots and pop bumper.

I thought that maybe my past board repairs failed, but I learned some things about troubleshooting coils.  If you connect a wire to ground, and then touch the metal tab on the transistor for that coil, if everything is correct, the coil will fire.

Also, you can touch the ground to the non-power lead on the coil (maybe you can touch either tab, I'm not sure and I wasn't going to try this late in the game) and it will fire, if everything is correct.

None of the coils would fire.  I checked the power and accidentally fixed the problem.  The coils were getting about 25 volts.  I tested the voltage up at the power supply, and it was 40 volts.  This seemed odd.  So I checked the coils again and they were at 40 volts, and they were now working.

Just touching the wire going to the power supply was enough to re-seat the wire well enough to get a good connection all of the way through.  Knowing this, I replaced the whole connector, and the game is 100% now.

I just have to slide it into place, put the new glass on it, and be done!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Holy crap! That's a lot of work.

I've just finished "shopping out" the lower playfield.  This means I stripped the parts off, cleaned them all up, touched up bad scratches, polished up metal, and gave it all a good look before reassembling it all.

It took me a little over 8 hours.  And I didn't make any mistakes that cost me any time really.  I didn't have to re-do anything and I didn't spend much time puzzling over how things went back together.  I may have been a little too meticulous, but really, can you be?

I'm happy with the results, and a bit daunted by the upper playfield which is much more complex than the lower playfield.

Before.  Some parts already stripped.

After.  Clean and bright.  About 95% assembled.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Home Made Playfield Rotisserie

I've finally reached the point where it's time to work on the playfield.  I have seen three or four of these home made playfield rotisseries and since it costs about $250 to buy one pre-built I thought it prudent to make my own.

This is with about $60 worth of parts from the hardware store.  Chad helped make it (them really, we made two) and I'm very proud of it.  The feet on the bottom swivel away for easy storage and they may it rock solid.

If there's one flaw, it's that I made it too big.  The playfield sits maybe 8 inches higher off the table than it has to.  I'll be modifying it a little to drop the "pivot" hardware the eight inches.  It shouldn't take long to do.

One day when I'm feeling a bit more industrius, I'll post the measurements. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Night and Day

It's nice to be at the point where I'm doing little things like polishing plastic.  I am shocked by how well the Novus products work.


Novus 3, then 2, and finally 1.  Oh, also a lot of elbow grease and paper towels.  (Toss some arm cramps in there too.)

Note the paint scuffs and fine scratches gone.  They have a nice iridescence now.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Work is really wrapping up.   It's hard to tell from these photos because the glare is so bad, but this work resulted in a significant improvement in how the cabinet looks overall.




It's hard to tell, but this really is MUCH better.

Click on this photo and note the area between the 1 and the 4.  I know it's dark, but you can see where the paint cracked and the wood is showing through.  I used a black sharpie to touch this up.  I will do the same with the red, and I'll get a white paint pen for the white areas.

Here it is "post sharpie".  It makes a big difference.  Now, so you don't think it makes the cracks disappear 100%, here is a shot under the harsh light of a flash bulb held 12 inches away.  You can see, if you look closely, that it has been touched up.  However, short of stripping the entire cabinet and repainting all of the artwork, nothing is going to be perfect.

Under the unforgiving eye of the macro lense and flash bulb.

This touchup is good for normal play lighting, even bright room lighting while standing a few feet away.  It will not pass the inspection of a perfectionist.  However, I'm learning that I can't be a perfectionist and still hope to actually play a machine I've purchased.  Maybe someday, but now is not the time.  I have pinball to play.

A very wise man once said, "Hey, you don't play the cabinet!"

Fox Hunting

AIM Chat Session:

chad:wtf... almost 40 and finding out about pinball now... wtf!!
I thought about that some.
I'm OK with it because I don't know if we could have justified this earlier.
Or if I would have had the life experience necessary.
I'm at peace with it.
chad:true. its just weird and peculiar.
makes me wonder... do I love fox hunting but dont know it?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Dog in my stable... er, pony in my yard? Goat in the pasture?

Picked this up a couple of weeks ago.  It was a very low price and in such good shape that it went straight into the basement.  I had to replace a flipper coil and a couple of resistors on it, but other than that it's working great.

It's the first machine that I get to just "shop" out.  I jsut have to clean it up the dust, replace some bulbs, maybe get a new glass for it and that's it.

I'm a little worried because I've already scored almost 4.5 million on it and it rolls at 9,999,999.

New Power Connector

One of the connectors on my power supply was discolored and if you felt it with the power on, it was hot.  This usually happens with an old connector that isn't making good contact.  I missed one picture, that's of me crimping a new pin in place.  But you'll get the point.  I think that I showed the pin crimping in an earlier post anyway.

Here you can see the burnt connector.

I usually move one wire at a time to the new connector so I don't lose track of which wire goes to which pin.  You can clearly see the difference between the old connector and the new one.

Here the new connector is in place, and it stays cool as we're playing.  Another successful repair.

Coming soon:  Transfer into the new cabinet and then down into the basement.

Oooh, Shiny.

Not too much to say.  Windex and paper towels then "000" steel wool, brasso, and elbow grease will turn pinball legs shiny.

Lower Leg = Before
Upper Leg = After

Friday, July 2, 2010

PIA Error

You may recall that my display, the "J" segment to be exact, was not working on the Player 1 and Player 2 LCDs.  I fixed it by cleaning up corrosion on the board.

Well, it was always my intention to remove the chips, clean up all of the corrosion, then solder in sockets and hopefully reuse the chips again.

I was playing the game one night as Chad and I were deciding what to work on next, when both P1 and P2 displays started to flicker.  I shut the game down, reseated the cables, the started the game up again.  I got a "PIA ERROR" on the screen.  PIA stands for Peripheral Interface Adapter.  It's a common chip in many games. 

I knew that my time had finally run out.  I had to replace the chips that night.

I removed the board from the game and commenced work.  First, I tried to nicely unsolder the chips so I could reuse them, but I didn't get as far as the 3rd pin before I gave up on that idea.  The first two pins were very difficult to remove, they were a little mangled, and I had another 78 to go.  I just broke down and cut the pins like the Pinrepair guide told me to do.

Here is U41 with the pins cut.

After the chips U41 and U42 were removed, I cleaned the board some and then Chad helped me desolder all of the chips.  It required four hands so there are no pictures of that.  However, once the pins were all removed, I used my desoldering tool to remove all of the excess solder from the holes.

Here I am heating up each hole and using the vacuum bulb to remove the extra solder.  Doing this a few times is no problem, after 80 desolders, my fingers were cramping a bit.  Some day, when I can afford it, I'll get the really nice tool with the automatic solder sucking vacuum.  It's about $300.

After the solder was removed, I used some vinegar to neutralize the alkaline of the battery corrosion, and then some alcohol and a toothbrush the get the board nice and clean.

The board is clean and ready to receive new parts.

This picture has no real significance.  I just thought it looked cool.  This is the bottom of the board with a 100w lamp shining on the other side.

Here are the new sockets, installed and soldered.  The advantage of this is that if there are any other problems with those chips I can just swap them out instead of desoldering 80 points and resoldering them.

Here it is, all finished up with the new chips installed.  When I put it all back together, it fired up with no errors.  I don't think this problem will return.  I think it took me about an hour to get this all done from beginning to end.  Having a friend help you by heating the pins as you pull them out with pliers really helps the job go much faster.  Friends are good.  Thanks Chad!

Back from F-14 Haitus - Beacons

I'm back.  I will probably have a few rapid posts as I catch up on my blogging.  Some of this stuff has been sitting on my camera for a while.

I finally sourced out the last two beacons that I needed.  I know these look rough, but they just need a little cleaning.  I cleaned them a bit with Novus 1, but the paint still remains on the top of them.  I'll cover cleaning the paint up and polishing the plastic in an upcoming post.

This entry is about cleaning up and rebuilding the beacon assembly.

Here is the assembly with one of the reflectors removed.  I used some Naptha, Acetone, Novus 1, and Novus 2 to get it all cleaned up.

You can see that there is quite a bit of grunge and dust built up.  There was oil on the electric motor and I couldn't figure out where that could have come from.  The belts were misssing, I got new ones from Marco Pinball, but you can see the rubber built up on the pullies.  The reflector needed some shining up too.

I used some acetone to clean up the oily grimey mess.  Here is a shot of it half finished so you can see how bad it was.  Where did that oil come from?

Here are the parts all cleaned up.

There isn't much else to say about this.  The parts are cleaned up, I put it all back together again, and this is how it looks in action.

You can see they spin and light up, it's really cool.  The thing you don't know from these pictures is that with everything all squeaky clean... it squeaks.  I had to put a little oil in the bushings, and my guess is that over time, oil built up.  As I'm writing this, it occurs to me that I should have squeezed some graphite in there to kill the squeak and not get any oily buildup.

So the beacons are done.

I spent some time cleaning up the rest of my stationary targets.  I rebuilt 20 of them in all.

On to some of the other things on the list.

Oh, yea, I made a list too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dear Alex,

My nephew Alex.  I have not lost any interest in pinball or restoring mine.  I know I have this habit of starting on some interest only to abandon it after a few months, your concerns are valid; however, this isn't the case!

This blog was supposed to be of my work on my F-14 Tomcat and until last Wednesday, I hadn't touched it in a while.

I took a trip to Jamaica, got a new job, helped Chad repair a power supply on a Secret Service, helped him move it into the basement, I also helped him pick it up in the first place.  Also, he got a sorcerer, which we drove for 6 hours to get on Memorial day.

I've spent many hours working on his pinball machines and to be honest, enjoying playing!  I've logged many hours on the F-14 but no one wants to read that, I don't think.

Last week I replaced two 6821 chips and completed a bunch of work that I will put up on the blog this weekend.

I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while, I'll have something else up soon and I think I'll split the blog to include all pinball related activity going forward.


Uncle Mike

PS:  This update is also for the guy in Norway that reads my blog.  Sorry!  Also, it's OK for you to call me Uncle Mike too.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

You never forget your first...

I've been playing a lot of Ripley's Believe it or Not at lunch time. I have finally made it onto the high score list of a pinball game in the wild.

You never forget your first...

... unless your second follows a few minutes later.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Back in the shop - Pandora's Box Part 2

We left off with a cleaned, rebuilt, and nicely lit pop bumper.  The problem was, it was locked on.  I've got a couple of months of experience and reading under my belt now, so I know that I probably have a bad transister.

I know now, that to test your transistors quickly, you put one lead of your Digital Multimeter on ground, then test continuity to the metal tabs of the transistors.  I do this and I find Q17 has continuity!  Here's my culprit!

I feel really clever and smart, so I unplug the corresponding connector to the board and turn the machine back on, fully expecting the pop bumper to be silent.  If there's no connector, there's no short, and there's an unlocked pop bumper.

I turned on the power and "WHAM!!" it locks down.  I found that inside the front cover of my F-14 manual is a list of all of the solenoids and their corresponding transistor.

Q17 is labeled as "Flash Lamps".  Wait, so what number is the pop bumper?  (I've heard Jet Bumper and Pop Bumper, in the manual it's "Jet").  Q69?

Yep.  That one buzzes out also.  I checked all of my transistors and found that I had 4 of them out.  Jet Bumper, Flash Lamps, Left and Right Slingshot bumpers.  What I don't understand is why aren't the slingshot bumpers locked on?  I really wasn't looking at them, maybe they were.


I guess I have a lot more work to do than I though.

The pinrepair guide recommends replacing the pre-driver transistors as well as the main transistor.  After removing the board from the back box, I cut them all out and started on replacing them.

There isn't much else to say about this.  I cleaned up my flux, replaced the board, and everything worked great!

I have no idea why, but the slingshots are stronger now.  I have no explanation for that and no one on RGP did either.  I could be imagining it.  One person said that maybe just the act of taking off the connectors and plugging them back in made a better connection so the slingshot bumpers worked better.  I'm picking that reason because the alternative is admitting that I'm nuts.

I did OK soldering on the board with my 15w Radio Shack soldering iron.  But for this job I used my nice new Weller soldering station ($99) and it made a big difference.  The end result was the same, but I was much more confident that I would not lift the traces because the Weller has temperature controls.  Also, the soldering pencil was much more comfortable to hold and the tip was made for soldering on boards.  The old 15w jobber has a general purpose tip which means it does everything OK but nothing great.

I'm down to fixing my lit beacons, putting the new toppers on them, then moving everything to the nicer cabinet.  I'll clean each part as I move it.  After that is done, I'll have a fully functioning F-14 Tomcat which I will put in my basement.

Then the F-14 project will go on a break while I work on the Jungle Lord.  I'll start a new sub-blog for that machine.  Once the Jungle Lord is done, I'll start back on the F-14 to Remove the playfield, remove all of the mylar, re-set the inserts, and then clearcoating!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Back in the shop. Opening Pandora's Box Part 1.

Someday very soon I will cronicle our adventures in eproms, but the story is still open.  That will have to wait.  I was able to finally get some time in the shop again today.  It needs cleaning very badly, but I really didn't want to spend time cleaning up instead of making my F-14 functional again.  I'll clean tomorrow, tonight, I get my hands on the pop bumper!

This is my Pop / Jet bumper.  It's a little dirty, it's not currently working because the coil blew, and also, anyone who knows the F-14 can see that there should be a lightbulb in there.  There's not even a socket for it.  I suspect that there was a problem along the way where the bumpber needed fixing, the light was removed, and the tech decided to just skip putting a new light socket in.

I've never done this before, so first I took a bunch of pictures, as per usual:

I'll spare the details.  There are a lot of pictures.

I then set about taking it apart.  I'll tell you what I did, then I'll follow up with what I should have done.

What I should have done:

With it all disassembled, I would clean it all up, install a new coil and new springs.  Finally, a new light bulb socket.

I may have made a mistake.  I like to polish up all of the metal before I put it back.  It's under the playfield and no one sees it, but when you lift the hood, I like to see shiney parts.  But I may have gotten overzealous here.  I don't know if that's brass colored for a reason or if they really oxidized, but I polished it right off.  It may just be me, but it looks like a surprised face.

With the parts assembled, it was time to put it back in place, then start working on installing the light.  I wish I had a picture of it properly done for you to see, but I don't, so you're stuck with how I did it!

Then it's time to lift the playfield and work underneath.

On the other side, I could not re-use a staple, and unless I wanted to simantle that side of the playfield, I could not staple it down.  Instead I used some shrink tubing to insulate the post.  I'll figure out a way tack that down.

With everything assembled, and an LED instead of the incandescent bulb.  Here is what it looks like.

So it was bright and happy!  But, why did I title this "Opening Pandora's Box"?

I turned everything on, and then tested the bumper.  It popped half heartedly 3 or 4 times and then WHAM!  It popped down and stayed down!

I turned off the pinball machine right away as not to damage anything.  Based on my reading, I now have a bad transistor.  I did some tests and confirmed that I didn't have one bad transister, I have 5.  I did check that a while ago and they were all fine.  I don't know what caused this but I suspect it was the shorted bumper coil.

More in the next post.