Lightbulbs and LEDs are among the most common maintenance repairs you'll make when you own and operate pinball machines. Generally these are straightforward replacements of burnt-out incandescent bulbs, and the most important thing is to be sure you have the correct replacement bulb and that it's seated properly in the socket. You may be able to source some of these through your local hardware store, but others, especially the bulbs needed for more recent pinballs and coin-op arcade machines, may be harder to locate. In some cases you may need to replace a socket rather than a bulb, but these are straightforward mechanical repairs and luckily both the bulbs and the sockets are relatively inexpensive compared to the more complex electronic parts. An entire aftermarket industry for custom lighting and other mods also exists, but you should be wary of replacing anything original with anything new or nonstandard if you're restoring an old machine and are looking to get the most resale value out of it. Collectors prefer original parts, whether you're dealing with pinball machines or antique cars.
In general for maintenance, especially on analog machines, you'll be dealing either with wedge-base bulbs - clear glass encapsulating the wire ends - or what are called bayonet bases, solid metal sheaths covering the glass bulb bases. Newer machines also use LEDs that are relatively straightforward, and have the added advantage of wearing out much more slowly than a standard bulb. Some machines (like Tron: Legacy™) also utilize advanced lighting in the form of fiber optics, tinted glass block or light strips, but even here any maintenance or change-out ultimately comes down to replacing some kind of light in some kind of socket.
Pinball machine bulbs, with a few exceptions, are normally not the more household-familiar 'screw-in' types, and are seated by pressing into the socket rather than twisting for solid contact. Twisting a bayonet-base bulb can separate the contacts from the sheath and result in flicker or what looks like a burnt out bulb if you're forceful with them; an unpleasant grinding sound/feel is a giveaway that you've used too much twist and not enough push action with a bulb.
For tuning-up lighting effects, a specially-made abrasive cleaning tool can be useful for removing tarnish from sockets, and a number of simple hand tools are also available to make inserting and removing these small bulbs more easy from tight spots inside the case and cabinet.
Dust can also be a factor, with excessive dust making your lights dull and potentially interfering with your electrical contacts. A good static duster (as seen on TV, or elsewhere) is a better choice than spraying Windex or any other liquid onto the playfield in an attempt to clean dust off of bulbs or glass. All kinds of bad things could result including a loss of decal adhesion and bubbling of decals, staining, dulling of the playfield hardcoat finish, and if you manage to get glass cleaner into a hot socket, electrical shorts. Amateur cleaning should always be a dry cleaning, and removal of dust doesn't mean smearing or blowing it all around in there. A good microfiber cloth does a fine job and can be folded to fit tight corners and behind small bulbs.
In many cases what's really needed rather than a bulb is a simple lamp cap, or hat cover as they are sometimes called. These are the colored acrylic covers that are held in place over the light source by small screws or a tight fit. Sometimes the caps are exposed to collisions with the pinball itself, and due to the effects of heat stress they are vulnerable to cracking or crumbling over time. They're also very inexpensive, but can be difficult to replace without the right tools to get into tight spaces. We can source these easily for you if you need some - just let us know in the form below.
Your owners' manual will have details regarding all the bulbs, sockets and caps used by your coin-op machine, and may even provide you with an order form or website to go to for replacement parts. If you'd rather skip the hassle and leave the work to insured experts, you can get in touch with us at Tilt Amusements in Central Ohio to take care of bulb maintenance on your machine to replace any burnt out bulbs or cracked caps, clean out tarnished sockets and replace any sockets that have worn out connections, as well as for tune ups, clean ups and thorough dust removal. Replacing dead lighting components is also a standard part of a tune up or larger system restoration project. Feel free to skip the hassle and give us the details in our maintenance form below.
Prefer to let us handle the maintenance hassles at your location? Give us some basic information below and we can quote a price for a system maintenance call or even an ongoing maintenance program if you're located in Central Ohio. Proper maintenance is the least expensive way to protect your pinball and coin-op investment.