Article by Ivan Durneen
Take a moment to consider the star post.
To some, it’s just a plastic post to wrap a rubber around. To this pinball lover, it’s a small thing of beauty.
Easy on the eye, its fluted sides catching the light from nearby lamps, available in a rainbow of colours, it sits in harmony with the playfield artwork and lifts the whole to a new level. The perfect synthesis of design and function.
My name is Ivan and I love star posts.
So when I began to hear rumours of ‘lighted’ star posts you can understand my excitement. What could possibly be better than the classic star post? Well, how about one that is lit from within, glowing with an ethereal majesty that until now would have been passed off as the stuff of a madman’s dream or the workings of some future alien civilisation.
I had to have some.
OK … I may be getting slightly carried away but you have to admit – lighted star posts sound pretty awesome!
And now you don’t have to be mad or an alien to have lighted star posts, you just have to head on over to the Great Lakes Modular website and order some.
Which is exactly what I did a few weeks ago.
The Star Post Light (SPL) Boards have been developed by Tony Clark at GLM, inspired by the work Steve Charland had done lighting star posts on a Gottlieb Alien Star . You can read more about the history of star post lighting on the GLM website.
So after a few days wait for the package to wing its way across the Atlantic I excitedly opened it.
Not surprisingly these days, the SPL boards use LED technology. They are available in cool white and warm (more natural) white, although the website does indicate other colours may be available on request. I ordered a pair of each to try them out in my games.
Installation instructions are provided.
So let’s have a closer look at the boards.
Each board has 4 LEDs, a few components and 3 attachment pads for wiring them into your game. The boards are super thin and designed to fit snugly beneath a regular star post – as you can see in the next photo.
The SPL boards are designed to provide permanent GI light and/or act as a flasher also - when connected to a coil/flasher of your choice the SPL will flash when that coil/flasher is activated! They are designed to run from the 20v DC flasher power found on most modern pins.
Hence the reason there are 3 connection pads for wiring.
Pad 1 (marked G) – wire to any ground if you want GI lighting
The more observant among you may have noticed that the boards are not pre-wired. So prior to fitting the boards and enjoying any cool lighting effects you will need to attach some suitable wire to the boards. I used some wire I had from a scrapped machine. Obviously if you don’t have a soldering iron or can’t solder you will need to get someone to do this for you!
OK, all wired up and ready to install the board in a game.
I decided to fit a pair of the boards to the slingshots of a Dirty Harry machine.
Here is the right sling lit as normal before fitting the board.
To fit the board obviously some removal of parts is necessary. So power off and tools out.
With the lower star post removed, the board can be put in place and the wires carefully fed below the playfield through the slingshot switch hole.
The star post can then be replaced, with the board fitting snugly beneath it.
All that is left to do is connect up the wiring under the playfield. It’s pretty busy with wiring and parts already below the slings so its important to make sure the wires are clear of all moving parts such as the slingshot kickers.
To get power for the SPL the middle wire attached to the power lug of a nearby 20v flasher. I wanted the SPL to flash when the slingshot fired so I connected the right hand (C/F) wire to the drive lug of the right slingshot coil as pictured below.
I just used crocodile clips to connect the wires but you could of course solder them on permanently or attach some suitable connectors for ease of removal.
And to have the SPL lit permanently GI style it needs to have the ground wire attached to ground somewhere. Now this isn’t always easy to find on the bottom of the playfield – usually only on certain boards, optos, motors etc. You could always attach to the ground braid in the cabinet but that means using a suitable length of wire so there is no snagging when the playfield is raised.
If you were to really go to town on your machine and light lots of posts then there is going to be quite a lot of extra wiring to be stowed neatly out of the way.
With everything connected and double checked it was time to power on the game and bathe in the glory of star post light ….hopefully !
So a flick of the switch and clearly I had connected everything up correctly as the star post was now glowing, beautifully lit from within.
When you compare it with the other star post without SPL fitted its clear the difference it makes. I was impressed. And my immediate thought was… I want ALL my star posts lit!
And a view of the left slingshot similarly lit…
And a view of both slings from the player’s perspective…
So I like the effect very much. I guess the most important thing to note is that with the SPL board taking its power from the 20v DC flasher circuit, when it is grounded the light is on ALL the time. It is not tied into the GI circuit in any way – so that in a game if all the GI lights dim or go out during a certain sequence the SPLs will remain fully lit. They do not dim.
Now this will vary enormously from game to game, but it is potentially something people may not like. For example with the latest ROMs for White Water there are quite a lot of cool GI dimming effects. I found I wasn’t that bothered but perhaps the next step in the evolution of these boards could be to approach that issue.
The other important feature of the SPL boards is their ability to flash. Below is a short video I took showing the flasher in action.
It was noticeable however that when other coils fired during the game there was minor flash on the SPL board. Now with the SPL lit as GI this was not really that noticeable, more of a brief flicker. However with the SPL board just running as a flasher, the lesser flash when another coil fired was noticeable. It is as I say though considerably less powerful a flash than when the desired coil activates.
I tried the SPL boards out in an Addams Family and also a Data East Tommy and noticed similar effect.
I believe this was recently discussed on the R.G.P. newsgroup and it seems to be down to the game's software. Similar issues can arise when LEDs are used in feature lamps on games. I think Tony and GLM are aware of the issue and are looking into it.
So again, potentially something some folk may not like. I actually quite liked it on my Addams Family – for example when the ball was in the pops you were getting extra flashing at the slings.
So there we have it . I personally like these lights a lot, even with the slight functional drawbacks discussed. And I would by no means let that put you off them. The quality of the product is high, installation instructions were clear and easy to follow. You will need some soldering skills and be happy to dismantle parts of your game to install the boards.
The choice of cool or warm LEDs will probably be dictated by the colour of the star posts, the existing lighting on the game and personal preference.
If you are into modding your pinball machines then these could certainly be for you. I do find myself looking at my other games now and thinking they need some star post lights!
Starry Starry Lights indeed !