Replacing a Flipper Assembly on The Addams Family
After nearly a year of flawless service, the lower-left flipper started sticking. It started out as something that only happened after hours of play at parties, but it eventually started showing up after only a few games. It was time for my first Addams Family repair, and I was worried about screwing it up. At that point, The Addams Family was the most expensive toy I owned.
I checked with Donnie Barnes (the collector I bought the machine from), and he concluded it was a mechanical problem (much cheaper and easier to remedy than an electronic problem). He said he'd be happy to fix it for his standard service rate, but he encouraged me to try it on my own. He told me that I would eventually
have to learn how to make repairs like this if I was to get into the pinball hobby. This is great advice for anyone who is planning to buy a pinball machine--you have to be able to take care of some issues on your own. I was lucky to have bought my first pinball machine from such a wise (and friendly) collector. Donnie said that rebuilding a flipper was easy, and that rebuild kits were readily available.
That said, on this first attempt I made a compromise. At Marco Specialties, I found an already-built replacement flipper assembly compatible with my machine. It was more expensive than the rebuild kit ($50 as opposed to $30), but it included a new coil (the original coil was covered with carbon and I thought it might be the cause of my problems) and didn't require any assembly. Just take off the old flipper, plate and all, put in the new one, attach the wires and that's it.
As always, the first thing I did was number all of the wires for reference during the reassembly process. I then numbered the connections on the new assembly to match the corresponding wires in the machine. I also took pictures for reference.
Here are the steps I followed for my first flipper repair. (Select steps are illustrated in the photos.)
Removed the flipper by loosening the bolt that held it to the assembly using an Allen wrench.
Snipped all of the wires (6--three to the flipper coil, three to the end-of-stroke switch (two were twisted together on one lead) as close as possible to the connection points on the flipper assembly.
Removed the old flipper assembly using a nut driver (8 screws).
Attached the new flipper assembly to the underside of the playfield using a nut driver (the new one only used 6 screws to attach it to the playfield instead of 8).
Stripped the ends of all of the wires and looped them through their respective connectors.
Inserted the flipper shaft through the playfield and into the flipper assembly.
It's a tricky thing to tighten the flipper assembly to hold the shaft in place (a process which takes two hands) while holding the flipper itself in the proper position on the tilted playfield (a process which takes a third hand). I tightened the assembly so that there was some tension on the flipper but I could still turn it. I then moved the assembly to the fully-closed (activated) position and compared the flipper position to that of the right flipper. This makes it much easier to get to the nut that you need to tighten on the assembly. I then alternated between positioning the flipper and tightening the nut until I had the correct flipper position and the shaft was firmly held in place.
Soldered the wires onto the contacts.
Donnie had warned me that Step 7 would be the trickiest part of the process--and that's probably true for people who are able to properly work a soldering iron. I suck at soldering, pure and simple. I admit it. Solder was going everywhere but where I wanted it to. I eventually got the job done, but not until I had wrecked one soldering iron (I dropped it) and burned two fingers (I caught it briefly before I dropped it--my instinct out-paced my brain).
Anyway, all's well that ends well. The new flipper worked better than ever--the new coil was a little stronger. And there's a bonus! Because I removed the entire flipper mechanism, I now have one to practice disassembling and assembling. (2020 note: I never did. I just practiced by rebuilding a flipper on one of my EMs when it died.)