All pinball games require a slope to work, but the best angle comes down to personal preference. Steeper angles make for faster games, whereas gentler angles can take better advantage of the playfield features. There are, however, a few guidelines you should always follow for the best angle.
The angle of your pinball must be level side-to-side and inclined 6.5º ± 0.5º front-to-back. Some games or players may need a bit more or less, but you should always start with these numbers.
How do I Check the Current Angle of My Machine?
Most modern pinball machines have a bubble level, usually on the right side. These levels will also often have a thicker line indicating the recommended slope. However, these levels aren’t very precise — and the recommended angle is just that: a recommendation.
As a result, you may want to use more precise tools to make sure the game runs correctly. In addition, the final verdict should always come with a test playthrough.
The first thing you have to make sure is that the machine is horizontally level. There’s no margin of error for this one. Any measurement tool can do the job, from the oldest bubble level to the most modern accelerometer. This is a list of the tools you can use for this task:
- Bubble Levels
Regardless of the tool you choose, you should always measure the playfield. Avoid measuring the glass or the lockdown bar, because these may not be parallel to the field. Choose a tool that can sit right above the flippers, parallel to the front of the cabinet.
Which of These Tools Is the Best for Leveling?
Although any of these tools will do, some are easier to use than others. Bubble levels are cheaper and easy to read, but most can only determine if the surface is level or not. On the other hand, inclinometers are precise, but can be hard to read.
These tools — sometimes called spirit levels or simply spirits — work on the principle of buoyancy. A mercury-colored spirit or alcohol fills a vial, but incompletely. The resulting bubble floats up to the higher side, indicating the angle at which the vial is slanted.
There is a marked center where your bubble should be. If it’s off towards either side, adjust your game by making the opposite side higher until the bubble stabilizes at the center.
Inclinometers use a pendulum to determine the orientation angle of an object respective to the force of gravity. You may also find them under the names “clinometers” or “tiltmeters”.
They can detect the slightest variations in the angle of your pinball machine, so they have very detailed scales. While this makes them more accurate, this also makes them harder to read.
Most modern angle measurement tools work with accelerometers. These tools contain microscopic crystal structures that get generate voltage when stressed by static acceleration — that is, gravity.
The biggest advantage to accelerometers is that most if not all smartphones come with them. If you use Android or iOS, then your phone definitely has an accelerometer. You just have to download a leveling app to use it as a level for your pinball machine.
The Angle is Off/It’s My First Time Setting Up My Machine. How do I Adjust it?
The first step is to push down at the four corners of the playfield. If one of them isn’t firmly seated, this means there is a clearance between the playfield and the leg. Adjust its leveler until it’s firm.
Make sure you have the appropriate casters and levelers. It’s a good idea to use heavy-duty levelers, if you can. You’ll need a 9/16” open-ended wrench to rotate the leg leveler nuts.
Use a little dab of an anti-seize compound on the threads to make them easier to tighten up, especially if you can’t remove the legs. Place the retaining nut under the foot of the leg and work your way up.
The best way to start is with the front legs. If you have other games, use their height as a reference for the machine you’re working on. Adjust the height until you feel comfortable with the position of the flipper buttons.
For the angle adjustment, it’s nice to have a measurement tool with audible tones. After pulling the glass and placing your tilt meter on the playfield, set the desired angle to 0.0º and adjust until it beeps.
After that, work on the back legs to adjust the slant. Place your meter perpendicular to the front of the cabinet, right between the flippers or a little above them. Don’t rely on the bottom of your playfield for support!
Then, increase or decrease the height of the back of your machine until you have a slope of around 6.5º. Each game has its own recommended angle, but the ultimate judge is experience.
After you do that, measure the horizontal level again to make sure it’s level. If it isn’t, adjust each side until both are at the same height.
I Only Have a Simple Bubble Level, But Still Need to Adjust the Slant
Even without the perfect tool, basic trigonometry allows you to use a simple bubble level to adjust the slant. In order to do that, you need a cardboard triangle with a right angle and a 6.5º slope.
Print a right triangle with a 6.5º angle and glue it to a thick cardboard, then cut it out. You need to make it as strong as possible. Then, place it at the center of the playfield, parallel to the sides. Finally, place the level on top of the triangle and adjust the machine until the meter is level.
You should do a final playtest to make sure everything is alright
For all the tools and techniques you can use, the final word belongs to the pinball. If you place one in the middle of the playfield, it should roll straight down, right between the flippers — just like your worst nightmare.
In addition, after everything is set, play a few times. You may find the game is too slow, or that the ball gets stuck often. If that’s the case, increase the angle until these problems are solved.
On the other hand, decrease the angle if the flippers don’t shoot the ball with enough force. You may also find out gentler angles make your game more unpredictable, since the ball bumps more side-to-side.
Ultimately, measures don’t make the game. If the game doesn’t feel right even at the optimal angle of 6.5º, experiment with your machine until you hit the sweet spot.
Personally, I prefer floatier games, which favor anticipation over reaction. I also love it when the ball suddenly picks up speed after bouncing around gently for some time.
One last tip: if you prefer faster games, use ramps as a reference (if your game has them). Make your angle as steep as possible while still allowing you to make ramps. If the ball consistently doesn’t have enough force to make a ramp, you went too far.
My machine keeps inclining more than it should after some time. What should I do?
The most obvious reason why your machine would constantly misalign is a rusty leveler. Remove all of them and check for signs of rust. You may want to replace all of them at once, to ensure they’re all in the same condition.
Alternatively, you can brush the rust off and wash the legs. This increases their durability and, if you care to polish them, this will also make a great difference in their look.
Upon reinstalling the legs, make sure they’re all perfectly straight — if your machine is rocking, you’ll get a different degree of slope every time you measure it.
You may also find that your leveler is damaging the floor. If that’s the case, get levelers with a soft bottom. There’s a good chance that hard floors will suffer more with your pinball machine, so be prepared for that.
Another possibility is that the playfield itself is warping. If that’s the case, you’ll have to replace the support for it. The safest way to do this is to contact the manufacturer for replacement parts.