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Thread: Arcade Repair: DIY or Get a Pro? Share Your Problems, Stories, Advice, Etc.

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    Default Arcade Repair: DIY or Get a Pro? Share Your Problems, Stories, Advice, Etc.

    Since getting into the arcade arm of the hobby, I've learned quite a bit. On the other hand, there's still a shit ton that I don't know.

    To date I've done 2 caps kits, both of which were successful more or less. In order to do the kits, I had to teach myself to solder. I'm still not great at it, but it's helped my fix some problems and save me money. In fact, did you know you can also fix problems with LCD monitors by a cap kit? I just fixed one the day! www.Mouser.com is great for custom orders, that www.therealbobroberts.net doesn't carry in premade kits.

    I currently own 3 cabinets. One of them is in my house and works 90%. Two are currently in the garage. One of them is being painted but works great, and the other was DOA and awaiting a multi conversion and TLC.

    I've found that original cabinets are getting harder to find these days, as a lot of cabinets have undergone a conversion at some point. If you have a limited budget like me, a lot of the cheaper games you find may be converted. This means you're going to need to possibly rewire a cab to fix past mistakes if they're not working 100%. The 2 cabs in my garage had undergone this fate at some point in the past. The one I'm currently working on, I had to get a new power supply for $90 or so dollars from Bob Roberts, as I was unable to grasp exactly how to wire one from scratch. I've learned a lesson though, and should be able to re-power a cabinet without a pre-made kit next time.

    I've also found that handpainting a cab that was originally stenciled, is nearly impossible to get to look right, courtesy of my current project. If you're trying to get a from the factory look, try and hunt down stencils if you want it to look great.

    So... cab owners or people looking to break into the hobby feel free to share or ask questions. Share problems, stories, or whatever.
    Last edited by TheDomesticInstitution; 12-22-2009 at 08:42 PM.

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    drowning in medals Ed Oscuro's Avatar
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    Most of my trouble has been due to having absolutely NO repair facilities here, so I can't practice my soldering even if I want to. Any money I can get for equipment usually is going straight into making whatever I have already more playable. As far as repairs go, I'm still waiting on an ECS cable to get a PC monitor working.

    If I were going to a cab, I'd get one of the imported ones that isn't dedicated to anything (an Egret, Astro City, whatever's most compatible with good stuff). As you say, dedicated games are a hard find (and space is at a premium), and most of the games I care about are JAMMA (or compatible) and came in kits (and I can't even find kits anyway).

    SNK's LS-30 games are as close as I'll be able to come in the foreseeable future to a "one-trick" cabinet (and I'm not actually mounting the joystick in a cabinet - actually I have yet to figure out what I'll do with it, probably bolt it to some wood or something). Anything else is taking up too much space versus the amount of play time it'd get me. I'd make an exception (if space were no issue) for a red MVS system though. I might be fine with just a MVS to JAMMA board though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Oscuro View Post
    SNK's LS-30 games are as close as I'll be able to come in the foreseeable future to a "one-trick" cabinet (and I'm not actually mounting the joystick in a cabinet - actually I have yet to figure out what I'll do with it, probably bolt it to some wood or something). Anything else is taking up too much space versus the amount of play time it'd get me. I'd make an exception (if space were no issue) for a red MVS system though. I might be fine with just a MVS to JAMMA board though.
    I guess it depends on what you want out of a cab. I don't do a lot of Neo Geo or fighting games, so I don't require as much compatibility out of one. I had a friend that built a 2 player MAME cab entirely out of scratch that could handle just about anything you threw at it provide it was a game that used a trackball or joysticks and buttons. It was tasteful and it worked well. I would really like one that operated like his, but making a cab like that requires more money than I can invest at one time... and it's beyond my woodworking skills.

    I'd love to preserve all original hardware, but I'd need space for 10-15 cabinets. Right now, emulating a game well (with original type hardware) is more important to me than buying and preserving the real thing. I will not butcher an all original cab to do this though.

    Choosing cabinets with space and financial limits is hard. I still don't know what my next cabinet will be. After I finally get my repainted multi Super Pac-Man in the house and can play it it'll sort of help me in determining what I need next. I can probably max out at 3 or 4 cabinets, so my next might be a cabinet MAME setup. Although certain cabinets have special controls and artwork that are hard to replicate. As of right now, there aren't many cabinets I need to have, primarily because I haven't played much on original hardware.

    As far as working space goes, I do most of my electrical repairs in the upstairs computer room. In fact the last cap kit I did was on top of my Donkey Kong cocktail. If I didn't have a garage the cosmetic repairs probably wouldn't be feasible.

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    I rarely plug my book, but since I just did in the last post I will do it again. My book Invading Spaces: A Beginner's Guide to Collecting Arcade Games is essentially a 180 page response to your question. It is where I have shared all my repair advice, problems, and stories. That being said, allow me to ramble a bit.

    In my book, I stated that if you want to own an arcade game, you have four choices: you can either pay for repairs, learn to do them yourself, get to be friends with someone who knows how to fix them, or enjoy your collection of broken games. Over the years I have done all four approaches. Paying for repairs is feasible if you only have one or two games. I have 30 and they've all needed repairs at one time or another so paying for all those repairs simply isn't practical. If you learn the basics of troubleshooting and can cap a monitor you can get by and save yourself a lot of money.

    I made several mistakes as a beginning collector. The first was, I set my price threshold too low and ended up buying cabinets that either (A) I didn't like or (B) needed repairs. My other mistake was (C) buying too many cabinets too quickly. This lead to quickly owning a large collection of cabinets that all needed repairing.

    I also greatly underestimate the time and work involved in repairs. Cap kits are one thing, but repainting a cab, in my head I think "well that should take an hour" when in reality I've had several for years that I've never fixed. I have a Burgertime cabinet that I originally bought to fix up as a gift for a friend, but the whole thing needs repainting and restenciled and by the time I got started with the repairs the person quit being my friend, which made abandoning that project that much easier.

    I have so many stories I don't even know where to begin, but most of them involve buying cheap cabinets that need minor repairs and then not doing the repairs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheDomesticInstitution View Post
    I've also found that handpainting a cab that was originally stenciled, is nearly impossible to get to look right, courtesy of my current project. If you're trying to get a from the factory look, try and hunt down stencils if you want it to look great.
    I never do cabinet painting during the winter unless I have a controlled climate, like an air conditioned garage, or unfinished basement. The paint doesn't dry as fast and may cause some pretty big headaches, especially if you're using stencils.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flack View Post
    I have so many stories I don't even know where to begin, but most of them involve buying cheap cabinets that need minor repairs and then not doing the repairs.
    So far I've paced myself and haven't gone overboard. The only reason I have 2 project cabs in the garage right now, is because it was hard to pass up a CL freebee, working or not. Unless I find another free cabinet, I won't get another cab until I've fixed up and sold the currently non-working one.

    Quote Originally Posted by diskoboy View Post
    I never do cabinet painting during the winter unless I have a controlled climate, like an air conditioned garage, or unfinished basement. The paint doesn't dry as fast and may cause some pretty big headaches, especially if you're using stencils.
    I started in the summer, and encountered the same problems. For me, the humidity from rain is quite a bit worse than the cold weather, as far as paint drying goes. I also don't have the luxury of a climate controlled garage. And also, I'm further south and we've been having a lot of 40-60 degree weather. My tune may be different if the temps were often below 30.
    Last edited by TheDomesticInstitution; 12-23-2009 at 12:14 PM.

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    I'm 100% DIY. I intentionally seek out non-working machines so that I can improve my own repair abilities. Plus they're usually a lot cheaper if they don't work, and in some ways, the process of bringing a machine back to life can be more fun for me than the actual game.

    I think what helps greatly is to gain an understanding of what all is taking place inside of an arcade or pinball cabinet. When you can get to the point where you have that understanding, it really help to remove the intimidation of DIY.

    My advice to a total neophyte would be to invest in the Randy Fromm DVDs. They're a great combo of easy to learn fundamentals, and real-world solutions to common problems. He does a good job of demystifying the internals and helping to cut right to the root of a problem.

    Also, make sure your tools are adequate for the job at hand. My most often used major tools are:

    1: A VOM from a real company (Fluke, Beckman, etc.). Avoid harbor freight brands.
    2: A temp controlled soldering iron.
    3: If you're going fix lots of boards, bite the bullet and buy a desoldering iron. They're expensive, but once you have one, you'll never know how you lived without it. A desoldering iron is a quantum leap ahead of solder suckers / bulbs / wick. I have an entry level Hakko 808 and over time it has saved me hours and hours and hours of work, pain, and frustration.

    I've got all sorts of other diagnostic tools, but they're probably only used 1% of the time. You really don't need anything very fancy to fix most problems.

    For me, the only time I would consider having a pro do work is if it would be unusually time consuming, or costly to obtain the proper tools for a repair. I mean, I'll use anything as an excuse for buying new tools, but some things aren't worth purchasing if you'll never use them again.

    The one time that I considered sending in boards for repair, the guy basically said he wasn't interested in fixing them (oddball Taito 8080 pirate/clone hardware). I kept the cabinet, eventually found the time to delve into learning more about digital circuits, and was able to fix it myself.

    Painting and woodworking - I don't have the patience for any of that

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    drowning in medals Ed Oscuro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheDomesticInstitution View Post
    I guess it depends on what you want out of a cab.
    I don't want a cab (for a variety of reasons). Problem solved.
    There still are many repair / DIY aspects to going the non-cabinet route, but they are going to pose different challenges (and expenses!) than cabinets will.

    I hope to eventually develop some soldering and diagnostics / repair skill. To that end I may eventually be looking at getting a Fluke and some other stuff. That would help me with a large variety of projects that need getting done, not all arcade-related (some dying handhelds are crying for help but I can't justify sending them to somebody else).
    Quote Originally Posted by Flack View Post
    In my book, I stated that if you want to own an arcade game, you have four choices: you can either pay for repairs, learn to do them yourself, get to be friends with someone who knows how to fix them, or enjoy your collection of broken games.
    What it comes down to is prospective owners should think twice about the older non-JAMMA dedicated games, especially since a lot of people who are just now getting into arcade collecting generally seem more focused on JAMMA era games anyway (from what little I've seen, anyway). The options aren't so stark as you suggest with JAMMA where a good universal cabinet will serve a lot of games and service (or outright replacement) is going to be easier - I'd call myself an arcade game owner (discounting the one dedicated I have for the sake of this argument) but your list really wouldn't apply as I'm using a supergun (which has a variety of benefits). Getting into the older dedicated games is a huge commitment; in my case, it was a huge mistake. At this point, I prefer to leave the older dedicated games to people who can service them properly and stay content with MAME.
    Last edited by Ed Oscuro; 12-24-2009 at 04:51 AM.

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    I like being DIY and just going with the flow.

    The other day, I had some one who was informed in video games and stuff, after me throwing out some random blurb of bs state "how do you know all of this?" And it kind of hit me that I have learned a lot in the past 3 years of repairing video games and arcade machines.

    What I love about repairing this stuff is, besides all of the other stuff, like gratifying experience, recycling, having a new thing to play/use, etc. It is a learning experience. I have learned so much random stuff, and as I learn more about computers and the like in general, I just start applying this knowledge with that idea and boom, I understand the general concept and can work with it.

    I donno. I don't think I know that much about arcades at all. But it is still nice, with what little knowledge I know, I can troubleshoot most cabinet repairs, and then do them.

    That is coming from a guy who. three years ago, didn't even understand what the S-Video port in the back of a TV was for, and why everyone didn't just use the yellow, or even easier, the coaxial jack!

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    I'm a DIY person. I can do bond & paint work on cabs, redo control panels, do art work, etc. I can also to component level repairs on boards, recap and rejuvenate monitors, replace speakers, fix coin mechs, do marquee lights, and more.

    I don't do woodwork beyond the bondo repairs as I don't have the room.

    For folks that can't or don't do DIY component level repairs on game boards, I do that as a service.

    I don't do monitor repairs though. I'll do 'em for myself or for a cab that's brought into the shop, but not mail-order. Chad does that over at arcadecup.com

    RJ

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Oscuro View Post
    I don't want a cab (for a variety of reasons). Problem solved.
    There still are many repair / DIY aspects to going the non-cabinet route, but they are going to pose different challenges (and expenses!) than cabinets will.

    I hope to eventually develop some soldering and diagnostics / repair skill. To that end I may eventually be looking at getting a Fluke and some other stuff. That would help me with a large variety of projects that need getting done, not all arcade-related (some dying handhelds are crying for help but I can't justify sending them to somebody else).

    What it comes down to is prospective owners should think twice about the older non-JAMMA dedicated games, especially since a lot of people who are just now getting into arcade collecting generally seem more focused on JAMMA era games anyway (from what little I've seen, anyway). The options aren't so stark as you suggest with JAMMA where a good universal cabinet will serve a lot of games and service (or outright replacement) is going to be easier - I'd call myself an arcade game owner (discounting the one dedicated I have for the sake of this argument) but your list really wouldn't apply as I'm using a supergun (which has a variety of benefits). Getting into the older dedicated games is a huge commitment; in my case, it was a huge mistake. At this point, I prefer to leave the older dedicated games to people who can service them properly and stay content with MAME.
    Ya know, you're totally right about the dedicated cabs being more of a pain. I started my arcade collection with a pair of non working cocktails and got em running. I picked up 8 partially working jamma cabs and 2 CPS-2 games and got 8 of them fully running and traded them all for dedicated games. I don't regret it because I had no interest in the jamma games, and the games I really like are older dedicated games, but as of right now I have 8 games and only 4 of them work enough to play them. I have kind of lost interest in working on them, so they have kinda been sitting.

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