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Pinball for Dummies: Anatomy of a Pinball Machine: Major Components

By Will Oetting

Anatomy of a Pinball Machine Major Components

All modern pinball machines consist of similar main components.  These are the components that make a pinball machine a pinball machine and haven’t changed much over the past decades.  Yes, they differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they are all very recognizable no matter who built them.

Backbox, Cabinet, and Legs

The base structure of a pinball machine is made up of the backbox, cabinet, and legs.  The backbox is the box on top that typically holds all of the displays and majority of the computer components of the machine.  The cabinet is the largest portion of a machine, and is the main box holding the playfield and all of the mechanisms that interact with the ball.  The legs are connected to the cabinet to hold up the whole thing to the height where it is comfortable to play.

Pinball Major Components
Pinball Major Components

More on the Backbox

The front of the backbox, facing the player, contains either a backglass or a translite.  A backglass is an actual piece of glass where the artwork is painted in multiple layered colors on the back.  Alternatively, a translite is a thin piece of plastic with the artwork printed on it that is then placed behind a piece of glass.  In both cases they are designed to have light shining through it from behind to enhance the artwork or to indicate certain game functions (Game Over, Tilt, High Score to Date, etc.).

Also housed in the backbox are any scoring displays or LCD screens that can indicate the player’s score or current game modes (refer back to the Eras of Pinball lesson on displays for each era).  Besides the displays, many machines will have the majority of the solid state electronics stored in the backbox.  These can include the MPU, solenoid driver boards, lamp driver boards, and power supplies.

AC/DC Backbox
Backbox of AC/DC Premium by Stern Pinball

More on the Cabinet

Right on top of the cabinet you will find the playfield glass.  It is usually held in place with a combination of plastic u-channel, the metal side armor, and the lockdown bar in the front.  The playfield glass is a tempered glass designed so that if it breaks it forms into a bunch of small cubes which are much less likely to cut you compared to regular glass.  Of course, that also means there is a lot more to clean up when it does break.  Always handle the playfield glass carefully to avoid breakage.  It is best to place playfield glass down on carpet or a towel instead of hard surfaces.

Playfield glass on carpet

Underneath the glass, the playfield is definitely where all of the kinetic magic happens.  It is typically a piece of birch plywood with all of the flippers, pop bumpers, rails, and other mechanics used to move the pinball in controlled and chaotic ways.  These mechanics can be secured on both the top and bottom of the playfield.  The next lesson will include a more in-depth exploration of the standard playfield features.

Top of Playfield
Bottom of Playfield

If you lift up the playfield, you will see some more items in the bottom of the cabinet.  This can include a subwoofer, transformer, coin box, and the tilt bob.  The most important of these to understand for players is the tilt bob.  The tilt bob is how the pinball machine determines when you are moving the cabinet too much; hence giving the player dangers and tilts.  It is made up of a plumb bob hanging within a metal ring.  When the plumb bob moves enough to touch the metal ring it completes a circuit and triggers a “danger.”.  Usually, the player is allowed two dangers during a ball before a tilt which will stop play.

Inside Pinball Cabinet
Inside Pinball Cabinet
Tilt Bob
Tilt Bob

At the very front of the cabinet is where the coin door is located.  Besides accepting money for plays, it is also how you access the cabinet to unlock the lock down bar and get the playfield glass off.

Keywords:  Pinball 101, Pinball for Dummies, Pinball for Beginners, Beginner’s Guide to Pinball, Intro to Pinball, Pinball for Newbies, Basics of Pinball

Full Glossary of Pinball Terms

About the Author: Will Oetting

I helped my father-in-law buy his first game, Bounty Hunter, and then instantly missed it when it left the house.  That drew me to the community and I was lovestruck pretty hard.  I have been working with Jeff behind the scenes of TWIP to help make sure that the website is running at its best.  I am also on the TWIPY committee where I help setup the surveys and collect the data for the awards.  My current favorite machine is Taxi but I also enjoy games of all types.

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