Bells, Buzzers, & Whistles


© Copyright 2002

By John L Patton, tiltjlp


Most pinball tables have a number of things in common. And I don’t mean metal balls, bumpers and flippers, and drain lanes. Nor even colorful artwork and graphics. I am talking about themes and sounds. Many themes often tell us a story, which usually is tied together with the artwork and music, especially with more recent tables. The more inventive of these tables do so using special modes or events, triggered by rollovers and targets, and most always, point totals.


Beginning in the early ‘70s, competition between the major pinball machine companies began heating up, and pinheads everywhere benefited. If we look at the tables offered to the public during this era, we’ll notice added bumpers and targets, more lights, most of them flashing. We’ll even see some halting steps being taken into the realm of electronic tables, and sounds. Sounds that, at least for me, were not always music to the ears. Today, mp3 and digital recording often make pinball music that’s concert-hall quality, which   can add a very special feel to your game. But sometimes, it simply adds distracting noise.

As you may know by now, I am partial to older-style tables, with only two or three flippers, and just one ball in play at a time. Now, I don’t have a thing against tables with a half-dozen flippers, hidden sinkholes, quadruple multi-ball action, and a soundtrack. But I sure do wish that there was a volume control on some of those ‘chines. Or better yet, a menu that would let me select some soothing Blues to get me in the right mood.


But the sounds I love the most are the ones you can hear on many of those classics from the ‘70s. I get Goosebumps just starting up one of those tables and hearing a scoring wheel resetting itself to zero. And listen as the balls return to the holding, or staging area, the sound of real metal balls as one-by-one they settle against the plunger. No sweeter sound exists for me. Let’s take a look at three tables from the early seventies, to show you what I’m getting at.


Both Spanish Eyes from Williams in 1972, and Gottlieb’s ’77 Super Spin have two flippers, and are electro-magnetic, for that old fashioned “real pinball” feel and sound I grew up with. Spanish Eyes, recreated by Eala Dubh, does have four bumpers, where Super Spin by Jay Phillips only has two, but they both have a comfortable presence to them.

Spanish Eyes has an older sense to it, with less of a showy look to it than Super Spin, with a more modern layout and a  busier feel, but I enjoy them both. And while there aren’t many games I actually dislike, Bally’s Supersonic from 1976 doesn’t measure up to those other two, not in my book, and not by a country mile. Scapino did a very splendid job with Supersonic. Visually, it is a masterpiece. And it only has two flippers and three bumpers, so why doesn’t it measure up for me? Because of the blips.


That’s right, where those other two lovely relics sound the way pinball machines should, at least from my experiences, Supersonic doesn’t. Using the electronics of those fading seventies, it blips and it beeps, and plays tinny sounding “special effects”. It really sounds terrible to someone who grew up with bells and thumps.


Interestingly, Super Spin is quite similar in appearance to Supersonic. But it has the feel and sound of Spanish Eyes. And while I much prefer Spanish Eyes, I still enjoy Super Spin. I’m sorry to say that isn’t true about Supersonic. I will play it, but only after I turn off my speakers. And I feel that way about nearly all of the early tables stuffed with an “electronic soul”.

For everyone’s benefit, I sure am glad that those pinball design wizards solved the ills of those first electronic gizmos. Tables from those early ‘80s still have much more flash and fireworks to them than I’m used to, but at least they don’t sound tinny. Pinball, as much or more than most similar pastimes, depends upon both sight and sound to win over fans. It’s really sad to think, that at least for some folks, there were about half-a-dozen years when pinball was anything but a winning game.