Last week we looked at the "Modding" scene (pinball... not piercings *snicker snicker*) , specifically the different "physical" ways that pinball aficionados modified their games to suit their tastes. That included adding toys, changing game artwork, and personalizing bits of their games to make them specifically their own.
This week we're going to look at another huge side of modding, and that is the LIGHTING side. This type of modification involves the changing of lights in a game, most commonly from incandescent bulbs to newer, more versatile, LED types. This is done to suit the owners taste, and in many cases, improve the look of a game. There is also a huge benefit to LED's, in that they're cooler than older style incandescent bulbs, and they typically last thousands of hours longer. The added color potential of LED's also means one can change the look of the game, as old style bulbs only came in white, 99% of the time. The downside to using LED's is that in many cases they do not look the same as older bulbs, and pinball players like what they are accustomed to and find LED lighting to be ugly or negatively impact play. Also in earlier years, LED's were not as sophisticated and the results were less than promising, resulting in older incandescent bulbs holding favor until now.
LED's in pinball machines are nothing new, some games came with them (behind the scenes on pinball circuit boards) as early as the mid 70's on early Solid State games, and visible to the pinball player as early as 1987 (seen there in the shooter lane area on a Premier: Arena pinball game). Stern pinball has been messing with them to replace old style incandescent bulbs since at least 2004, but as you can see in the first 5 mins of that video (courtesy of mdclayton), LED's at the time were not quite as sophisticated as today and had issues, resulting in Stern continuing to use older bulbs until last year.
|Incandescent 555 wedge bulb on the left, it's LED equivalent on the right (old school flasher up top)...|
LED bulbs have gotten better lately, and are now available in many different colors, configurations, and brightnesses that can make older games really pop.
This has led to several major LED bulb vendors for the pinball community for hobbyists and owners to really trick out their games and modify the game's lighting.
|Metallica with custom LED lighting throughout|
Some major LED vendors for the community are:
Comet Pinball (My personal favorite, great prices, great variety!)
|Black Knight plastic with blue LED underneath|
|Check out that moon! LED bulb ADDED to that spot for extra effect!!!|
With improvements in LED design, you now have dozens if not hundreds of different bulb styles and options to get the light and color just right for you. These vendors even provide entire kits so that you can just tell them the game you want to light up and they will send you all the bulbs in all the right colors to make your game look its best. The LED's themselves have been improved and many of the issues that people faced years ago are gone, so that even Stern has now adopted LED lighting as standard throughout all of their models.
|LED lighting on Stern's Star Trek: Pro|
This begs the question: "Is the old school incandescent going the way of the Dodo???" Not necessarily, as certain players and collectors will always want to remain traditional and not switch their games over, but for most other people and their games, as well as all newly manufactured titles from here on out, LED's seem to be here to stay. I guess you could say that Pinball is now officially in "The LED Era".