How to remove the backbox of a pinball machine

On most pinball machines it is easy to remove the backbox (or its head) to prepare the game for transport.

Never move a pinball machine with the head in upright position, it may break and fall off. It wouldn't be the first time a pinball machine gets destroyed because it's being moved with the head still on ! Especially if it's put like this in the back of an open pickup truck.
On newer games you can easily fold the head down, and on older games (on average before 1988) you can remove the head.
Taking the head off not only reduces the weight, it will also make the machine easier to move through small doors or on stairs.

folded WPC


Remove backbox of electro-mechanical pinball machines

Removing the head on an electro-mechanical pinball machine is easy. The games were made for this. Usually it only requires:

  • Remove the metal plate on the back of the head.
  • Remove the connectors which come from the cabinet (usually 3 or 4).
  • Remove 4 screws which hold the backbox to the cabinet.

That was easy, wasn't it ?
Usually the connectors involved have a different number of pins, so it's not possible to confuse them, but double-check this.
Don't forget the power wire goes between the cabinet and backbox, so if you assemble the head first take this wire out of the cabinet.

em head em head


Open electronic pinball machines

Bally Playboy backbox

Older machines like Bally/Stern use the same principle: unplug all connectors (about 10) from wires going to the backbox, remove 4 screws inside backbox, which hold it to the cabinet, and it's loose.
As always: use a pen or labels to mark where each connector goes. Don't forget the metal ground wire. And count how many things you disconnected, so you don't forget to connect something. And if you have a digital camera, take enough pictures, in case you doubt about something.
When assembling one of these games (and EM-games), don't forget the wire that goes to the wall-plug: don't forget it in the cabinet, it goes between the cabinet and backbox.

Old Williams games are even more easy: they have connectors on the wires between the cabinet and backbox. Take care as one pair can be exchanged !! There are 5 or 6 connectors, the ground wire, and sometimes a connector on the sound board you have to remove.


Williams System 11 games

Click here to see how to remove the head on a Williams System11 pinball machine.


Remove head of Williams Bally WPC games

WPC backbox

Only on Williams WPC and recent Gottlieb games it is not so easy to remove the backbox, because these machines are designed with a backbox which folds down.
If you really have to remove the backbox, you have to unplug a lot of connectors.
Be sure to label them all, take pictures, and in case of doubt, check your manual..
Important remark !! The manual is NOT always correct !!!!
On Williams WPC games some connectors already have a label on them.
Do what the label says, even if the manual says otherwise !
(if you weren't the one who disconnected everything, because YOU should mark every connector with a sharpie pen !)
On BS Dracula i.e. following the manual will result in an exploding capacitor on the power board :-((((

Removing the head of a WPC game is not something you do for fun ! Only do it if necessary, and take your time. Removing the head and labelling the connectors may take around an hour, certainly the first time you do it. Assembling it also takes an hour, be sure to double check everything..

WPC backbox screws

Note that to remove the backbox you have two options, either remove the backbox from the cabinet where the hinge connects to the cabinet, or where it connects to the backbox.
In the beginning I always disconnected it inside the cabinet. It's easy, only 1 screw on each side to remove. But this screw is of a special type and can get damaged when you remove it too much.
Therefor I now always remove the 3 screws at each side inside the cabinet when I have to remove a backbox on a Bally/Williams pinball machine. You do have to use some cardboard so the hinge will not damage the cabinet.


Gottlieb and Data East pinball machines

Gottlieb Sys80B backbox
Gottlieb Sys80B backbox.

Gottlieb Sys80B backbox
Some of the Sys80B wiring has connectors between the cabinet and backbox so you don't have to unplug all the pcbs.

These games aren't as complicated as Williams WPC games, but aren't easy either. Gottlieb games do have labels on every connector, even the older ones. Usually Data East games have them too, so it's not so easy to confuse where a connector goes. However this isn't on every DE game so make sure you've got labels/sharpie pens around.. My DE Phantom of the Opera had fuse holders on the side of the head to which wires from the cabinet were soldered, so I had to cut these wires.. other DE games (Hook, Tommy) didn't have this, on these I could remove all connectors coming from the cabinet.. so not every Data East game is the same.

Gottlieb Sys3 backbox
Gottlieb System 3 backbox.

Sega and Stern games

Monopoly backbox

Monopoly backbox

Removing the backbox of a Stern Whitestar game is very similar to Data East, but even more easy to do. The first picture shows the pcbs connected, in the second picture every connector has been removed and the game is ready to take off the backbox. There are only about 10 connectors you have to remove, just label them with a sharpie.
Note that the backbox of the first generation of Stern games (like Monopoly) is a little bit more wide than a WPC game.. so if a WPC game barely fits trough a door in your house (as we have), a Stern game may not and you'll need to remove the head !
More recent Sterns however have smaller backboxes, so they became easier to move.

On the games after 1990 that are designed with backboxes that fold down, you'd only completely remove it if you have no other option, like when you need to take it trough a small door. Folding the backbox down is easier and safer.


Remove a playfield from the cabinet

WPC cabinet

Once the backbox has been removed from a pinball machine, it's easy to remove the playfield too.
Double check all connectors coming from the playfield, as one or two may be connected to the cabinet wiring.
Once they're loose, just pull the playfield straight out the cabinet.
This makes it a lot easier to move the game (even if you're with 2 people, don't stress your back).