What Year Pinball Machine to Buy

What Year Pinball Machine Should I Buy?


When it comes to pinball machines, there are so many different brands and models to choose from. But you should think of buying a pinball machine as an investment, especially if you’re thinking about starting a collection. But which pinball machine is a good fit for you?

The year of a pinball machine that you should buy falls into three primary types.

  • Modern SPIKE Machines: 2013-Present
  • Solid State Machines: 1975-2000
  • Electro-Mechanical Machines: Prior to 1975

The year pinball machine you buy also depends on your access to repair support and material/parts, the depth of your pocketbook, and whether you are a:

  • New Collector
  • Intermediate Collector
  • Experienced Collector

Guide for New Collectors

Pinball machines can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. It’s safe to say that purchasing one is a big commitment. Much like a car bought fresh of the lot, pinball machine’s experience similar wear and tear over its lifetime and require proper maintenance to properly function.

Consider Buying New Models First

If you’ve never owned a pinball machine before, or are considering starting up a pinball collection, it’s highly recommended that you begin with newer models. Generally, models made in the ‘90s and onward are easier to take care of because their parts are a lot newer and more efficient.

There are even pinball machines that are completely virtual, and significantly easier to handle that retro pinball machines. These digital versions don’t require a lot of prior pinball machine handling experience, so they’re definitely a good first start for those introducing themselves to the pinball machine community.

Learn to Service Your Own Machine

Learning to service and maintain your pinball machine is a lot cheaper than repairing your machine outright. Always remember to turn the machine off before you do any sort of work. There’s always the chance that you can bump loose an electrical connection, which may result the playfield or internal components if you didn’t shut the pinball machine off first.

You may find that, as a new pinball machine collector, it’s a good idea to invest in the proper tools needed to maintain your machine. Buying have the right files, paints, soldering tools (and so on), you can save yourself the headache of accidently damaging your own machine.

It’s also always a good idea to wipe down the playfield regularly to avoid dirt and dust build-up. Pinball machines that haven’t been taken care of properly often have tracks left on their playfields from repeated pinball interaction. Replacing pinballs every now and then also helps to keep dirt build-up and playfield paint chipping from happening.

Study Your Machine!

This one may sound a little weird, but it’s a good idea to take lots of pictures of your machine. This way, should you ever have to physically go inside the machine to make repairs, you’ll know exactly what it should look like once you’re all done. It’s also great to have as a reference for when you have to move from location to location, so you know exactly how to set it up again. At the very least, these pictures can be used to show your friends and fellow members of the pinball machine community the model you now call your own!

Newer machines also come with user guides that can be helpful in teaching you about the different components and operations of your pinball machine. With older machines, which are often bought second, even third-hand, may not have its accompanying guide anymore, which can make maintenance and repair more difficult for new collectors.

Understand that Collecting Can Be Pricey

Most people who are new to pinball machine collecting should be very aware about how expensive it can be. There are initial purchasing costs, repair costs, moving costs, and even costly power bills associated with keeping pinball machines running.

Regardless of what year pinball machine you should buy, it’s highly recommended that new collectors really commit to both learning more about the community and be aware of how much it could potentially cost them in the grand scheme of things.

Guide for Intermediate Collectors

For those of you who aren’t necessarily new to the world of pinball machines, but definitely feel that there’s more to learn, this next section is for you. When it comes to trying to determine what pinball machine you should buy, we suggest models built in the ‘80s and onwards. Pinball machines made during this time began to shift towards solid-state hardware, making their overall maintenance and repair a lot easier for their owners.

Why solid-state pinball machines?

Solid-state pinball machines are a lot easier to maintain than older models that required complicated electro-mechanical components. For the intermediate pinball machine collector or enthusiast, these models are highly recommended because they are easier to repair. Many components for solid-state pinball machines can easily be removed and replaced should they eventually break down.

How does price play a factor?

Machines made around the ‘80s are in a little bit of a sweet-spot when it comes to value. These machines aren’t so new that you have to pay large amounts to get them right off the assembly line, but they also aren’t so old that you have to invest a ton of money to have them repaired. If the level of maintenance expertise wasn’t required, pinball machines made during this time period would also be a good fit for new collectors, as well.

An intermediate collector may also already have established connections in the community, which can help them gather more information on a particular model that they’re interested in. Middle-aged pinball machines can vary in price depending on the model’s popularity and demand, and so being able to ask fellow pinball machine enthusiasts for advice or more information makes the whole collection process a lot easier.

Guide for Experienced Collectors

An experienced collector should by pinball machines not based on year, but the machine’s condition. Whether you’ve found an old electro-mechanical pinball machine, a machine made in the ‘80s, and some of the newer models that are currently being produced and placed on the market, an experience collector should feel comfortable maintaining machines of all ages.

Machines Made Before the ‘80s

Pinball machines used to be made using an elaborate system of relays and feedback loops. Not only did this mean that older pinball machines were a lot heavier because of all of the internal components it had to house, but it was also a lot more difficult to have them repaired should something break down.

Unless you happen to get lucky and buy an older machine that still has its user manual, have the funds to hire a technician, or a degree in electric engineering, older machines really should be bought by experienced collectors only. In most aspects, they are a lot harder to take care of, and many of their parts are a lot more difficult to replace, meaning older models may not be suitable for first-time or intermediate collectors with few resources to fall back on.

Experienced Collectors and the Pinball Community

There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help or advice, especially when it comes to the maintenance and repair of older pinball machines. Experienced pinball machine collectors often have a lot of connections in the pinball machine community that they can rely on should they ever need help. New or intermediate collectors may not have the same amount of reach yet, and therefore may not have the resources needed to handle owning older pinball machine models.

Older Pinball Machines Fluctuate in Price

It’s hard to know with older pinball machines if you’re getting a good deal. Just because a model is older, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s worth the seller’s asking price. Experience pinball machine collectors know that there are a variety of factors that determine a machine’s value, and are better able to determine if an older model has been listed appropriately.

Some older pinball machines could be worth only a couple hundred of dollars, while other models that were made in small quantities and have high demand can justifiably be worth a couple thousand. New and intermediate collectors may not have done enough research to know if the price of an older model is fair, and therefore should really only be collected by those who already have a lot of experience.