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Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

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While a pinball game isn't of much use without pinballs, they are also your playfield's worst enemy.  A scratched, pitted pinball is the equivalent of rubbing sandpaper across the playfield.  So clearly spending a few bucks on premium pinballs is a wise investment, but which premium pinball is the best and how frequently should they be replaced?

The intent of this article is to answer those questions.  Unfortunately though you can't accurately examine the condition of a pinball with the naked eye (see Images 1 and 2), so Calico1997 used a Proscope HR microscope to analyze premium balls from several manufacturers.  The pinballs where photographed when new and then after 100 games.

The test was performed using a Williams Funhouse in average condition.  Each ball was marked with a small scribe to identify it.  The machine is a 3 ball game and was set to 3 balls per game.   It was played 100 times and average game time was 4 minutes each.

The three main contenders for premium replacement pinballs are the Premium Ultra-Gloss from Pinball Life ($1.50 each), the Premium Chromium from Pinbits ($2.00 each) and the Silverjet from Marco Specialties ($3.39 each).  The PBL product is made from carbon core steel, the Pinbits product is from chromium steel.  Additional details on the Marco product where not available, but they are most likely chrome steel.

It is important to note that the PBL product is the only pinball recommended for use in games with magnets.  Both the Pinbits and Marco pinballs can become permanently magnetized.  This is worse in some games than others, for example, even carbon steel balls will get magnetized in Theater of Magic.  

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Once a pinball is magnetized, the problem will show up when two or more balls are stored in a shared metal structure (ball trough or castle lock on Dracula, for example).  Ball trough hang-ups are especially an issue if the ball trough is dimpled.  On most games the problem can be solved with the Ball Trough Magnetic Jam Protector from Pinbits.

Note: Some pinballs, like the Chromium from Pinbits, are coated with a light oil which needs to be removed with a solvent or soapy water before installation.

Before we get into the analysis, let's look at the standard pinball that comes with a Stern game.  In Image 3 you can see the surface of a new Stern pinball at 50X magnification and in Image 4 at 100X magnification.  After looking at the pictures if you think it would be wise to replace the pinballs in your brand new Stern game, you are correct.

Images 5 - 8 are of the PBL Ultra: new at 50X, new at 100x, 100 plays at 50X and 100 plays at 100X.  One thing I should mention about the PBL balls is there seems to be some variation in finish.  If you receive any with scratches or pitts just let Terry at Pinballlife.com know and I'm sure he'll be glad to replace them.

Images 9 - 12 are of the Pinbits Chromium: new at 50X, new at 100x, 100 plays at 50X and 100 plays at 100X.

Images 13 - 16 are of the Marco Sliverjet: new at 50X, new at 100x, 100 plays at 50X and 100 plays at 100X.

In regards to the brand new balls, the Pinbits was the smoothest and glossiest.  The Marco pinballs were very close in finish, but at nearly twice the cost.  The PBL balls were fairly glossy and priced competitively, but under a microscope you can see small textural variations in the finish.

After 100 plays all of the balls exhibited about the same number and depth of scratches from a micro view.  From a macro view they were very similar in appearance and it became hard to tell which was which.

Personally I would go with the Chromium for non-magnet games and the PBL Ultra for magnet games.  I'll leave it up to you as far as how often you replace your pinballs, but I was surprised at the amount of wear after only 100 games.

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Photos courtesy of Calico1997.