Friday, December 4, 2015

Gift Ideas for Pinball Hobbyists and Players

I guess I'm writing this for the pinball layman: the girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, or wife of a pinhead who wants to get a gift for their pinball-obsessed person in their life but doesn't really know what they have or need. Maybe your Secret Santa said they want a pinball Christmas present? There are plenty of things in all prices ranges to get a pinball person. It's not like video games, books, or movies where you really have to know a person's taste to get the right gift. There's universally appreciated media and upgrades to machines that anyone would love.

Around $10

Pin Gulp

The Pin Gulp ($12) goes with pinball like beer goes with pinball. There's not much to say, it's literally just a cupholder that mounts on the leg of a machine. This is especially useful if you know there are no tables in your recipient's pinball room.

This Old Pinball DVDs

TOP DVDs ($9.50/ea) are something special, a series of DVDs all about restoring and repairing games put out by one of the most respected guys in the hobby. These are not dry educational videos, they very entertaining and even experienced hobbyists will pick up tips. If the person has modern games, #3, #4, and #7 are the most relevant. For older electromechanical games, start with #1 and #2. Or buy them all, seriously. They come in barebones packaging as burned DVD-Rs, so you might want to spice it up with a gift box or something. Order them by emailing Clay at and paying with Paypal. Otherwise Marco Specialties usually has some in stock for a little bit more.

Alternate Pinballs

This one's a little subjective to taste. Back Alley Creations sells these cool black pinballs ($5/ea). You can get different designs to match a game, or get plain black. Cheap little stocking stuffer type gift. You want the 1" G25 balls, all games use that size. Most games have multiple balls (3-5 is pretty standard) but you might just want to replace one ball with the unique ball, or replace a captive ball on the playfield. Lots of little uses for this cheap mod.

Framed Flyers

Pinball manufacturers put out promotional flyers to advertise the latest games. These exist back through decades and they're normally really cheap (~$2-5 for many of them). Ebay is a great place to get them. Having flyers of the games you own is a cheap and easy way to decorate the game room. They're 8.5x11" usually so very easy to find a cheap frame at Walmart or the dollar store if you're sticking to budget principles.

Bent Plastic

Bent Plastic ($8-10) doesn't sound very exciting but it serves a very useful purpose. Pinball machine displays create a pretty bad glare on the glass. Bent Plastic is simply a flat, opaque piece of plastic that slides into the upper glass channel to prevent that glare. It's a must, especially if you're not using fancy expensive anti-glare glass.

Around $25

Pinball Magazine

Pinball Magazine (~$31 shipped an issue) is not really a magazine, it's more a giant softcover book full of long interviews and articles, photography, news, history, and all sorts of other points of interest in the hobby. It's not at all something you'd find a newsstand, each issue is something to treasure. Don't be put off by the seemingly high price and overseas shipping for something called a "magazine", the content is very high quality.

Pin Footies

Pin Footies ($20). If your giftees games are on carpet, these coasters are designed to protect it and make sliding games around easy. They're made of lacquered oak so they look fancy. I honestly never understood of the "executive" look to these was supposed to be ironic or a joke, but they're awesome and designed by a respected restoration guy in the hobby, Bryan Kelly.

Bulb Tester

The PinballLife Pinball Bulb Tester ($30) is the perfect kind of gift. It's a convenient luxury product to have, but probably not something you'd really want to spend much money on. Especially if your giftee likes modding their games with LEDs, it makes testing and comparing different bulbs very easy.

Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball

The documentary Tilt ($20) is the story about Pinball 2000, the last gasp of Williams in a dying late 90s pinball industry. It's one of the most interesting times in pinball and in general is just a great story about the business. Unlike other pinball movies it doesn't push pinball culture and all of the "wacky players and collectors". This is the pinball movie to have.

Pinball 101

Pinball 101 ($19) is an instructional DVD about basic playing tips. It shows you all of the basic flipper skills that prove pinball is anything but luck and it's filled with controversial interludes of cars driving around pinball machines (Who wants to sit through an hour of nothing but a pinball class). It was made by Keith Elwin, perhaps the best player in the world. A good DVD for the pinball newbie.


PPS makes these mini-translites ($20) of some popular games. A translite is the art that goes in the backbox of a game, which has light pass through it to illuminate it. It's basically a cool, high quality, small poster. You can also get real full sized translites around the internet which vary in price from around $50-150 usually.

Around $50

The Complete Pinball Book

The Complete Pinball Book ($42) is a thick hardcover coffee table book about the game and its history. It goes over each playfield component or mechanism, where it was introduced, and how it evolved over the years. It's definitely not some boring reference book. It's a great read, especially for someone new to the hobby. Lots of fancy full color photos and information.

The Pinball Compendium

Michael Shalhoub put out a series of books for collectors of pinball that cover certain eras like the 70s, early EMs, and modern games. The Pinball Compendium books are around $40-60. Get the one your giftee is most interested in. These books are more dry and "reference material-y" than The Complete Pinball Book above, but still a good coffee table book. Also, there is no single book that will have pictures and information of every single pinball machine ever made, and you'll never find one completely up to date. Pinball is a niche hobby and we're thankful we have a couple cool coffee table books at all.

PINBALL by Santiago Ciuffo

PINBALL (~$58 shipped) is another large hardcover coffee table book. It's almost exclusively full color photography of pinball machines, old bingo machines, people playing pinball, arcades, etc. A good choice for people who are maybe less reading inclined.

Treasure Cove Polishing Kits

These polishing kits ($69+) make dull playfields into shiny playfields. Treasure Cove's kits are one of the respected all-in-one kits put together specifically for the purpose. It will polish clearcoated painted playfields and shine up dull mylar.

Around $100-300

Ultrasonic Cleaner

If your giftee takes games apart to clean and repair them, an ultrasonic cleaner is perfect. It cleans more thoroughly and easily than you can clean many mechanisms by hand. Bigger is better, but about 3L capacity will fit most things on a pinball machine. This ultrasonic cleaner fits the bill perfectly for around $90. The sky is the limit, you can get huge ones for $600+ but for an average collector it's a little overkill. Consider getting a cleaning product to put in it such as Ultra Dust.


You have to know a little bit about your giftee's games for LED OCD ($150). If your giftee has a Stern Whitestar (Many 2000s) or Bally, Williams, or Data East game (Many 1990s) that they've modded with LED lights, this will make their game look ten times better. When you just swap regular bulbs for LEDs, it ruins the game's light fading effects and causes problems like flicker or ghosting (bulbs being slightly on when they shouldn't be). This fixes all those problems. Just look at the videos, it's an incredible product.

Anti-glare Glass

Anti-glare glass such as PDI Glass ($300) and is something everyone wants but many people don't want to shell out the dough for. It eliminates glare from the backbox, display, and room lighting so you can easily see everything on the playfield. It's a very expensive upgrade, but despite how worthwhile it is it's hard to get over the whole paying $300 for a sheet of glass thing. That makes it the perfect gift. PDI is considered the gold standard. Invisiglass ($300) sometimes goes on sale but comparison videos show it is inferior. Bob's Ultimate Pinball Glass ($110) is a nice clear sheet of glass, but it's not anti-glare, so not in the same category.

Hakko FR300 Desoldering Tool

Hakko FR300 ($259). If your giftee works on machines, there's a good chance they're soldering and desoldering a bunch of stuff. Desoldering stuff is a pain that involves repeatedly heating up solder and using a little spring loaded suction pump to suck it out. This is basically a soldering gun with a vacuum on it. It makes jobs a lot easier and is very convenient to have around.

Undercabinet Lighting Kits

Rock's Custom Pinball sells interactive undercabinet lighting kits for a variety of games for $75-90. These kits are triggered by other lights in the game and flash different colors under and behind the machine. A variety of kits are available that are compatible with most popular Stern and Bally/Williams games. You can DIY similar effects with strings of LEDs from Ebay or Comet Pinball's Matrix System, but a ready made kit is a fancier gift than some wires and LEDs.

Around $400


OK you're serious about a gift. Do they have a machine with a dot matrix display? Is it still plain orange or red? They want a ColorDMD ($400), I guarantee it. This is a drop in LCD replacement for the old single color displays that adds colored dots and animations. They're all beautiful and it's instantly the first thing you'll notice when looking at a game. Don't worry about buying one for the wrong game, it's easy to change the firmware. The website makes it sound a little like they are game-specific, but it's a generic product that you can swap between many different games. If you don't have a particular game in mind the SIGMA display comes without firmware, the others come with firmware pre-loaded.


This is one subject to taste, but most people like having fancy LED-lit toppers, especially on newer games. Stern sells fancy high quality toppers for $400 for Walking Dead, KISS, and Game of Thrones. There are many other places to buy cheaper toppers in the $100-200 range such as Pinball Toppers and Laseriffic. Go with your gut though. There are plenty of cheap (in the bad way) toppers that look awful. If it looks awful in the picture, it probably looks bad in real life.

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