MARCH TECH OF THE MONTH: MATTHEW MANDARANO
Meet Matthew Mandarano, located in North Carolina working under Carolina Pinball Repair and a full time technician at Abari Game Bar located at in Charlotte, NC. He re-found this hobby in 2011 and began repairing machines in 2013.
Q: How did you first get into the hobby?
“My best friend’s dad was big into pinball when he was growing up in the 60s and 70s. He would always take us over to the pinball machines to play a few games whenever we were at a bowling alley, pizza joint, gas station, or arcade that had one and teach us techniques and how to play.
I immediately took to the game and loved it. I would seek them out and put some quarters in any pin I came across. While my contemporaries were playing TMNT, The Simpsons, X-Men, Mortal Kombat, etc. I was the weird kid in the corner playing the pinball machines. I remember my friend Alex and I would go up to the local video store in downtown Mocksville, and sink every quarter we had into a Data East Batman almost daily one summer. Other games I remember putting a lot of time on back in the day were Addams Family, Attack from Mars, Batman Forever, and Monopoly a little later. We had all the high scores. Since money was scarce for a couple of 11 year olds, we would alternate balls and put our initials up as a mixture of the two.
Time went on and pins all but dried up. Once in a blue moon I’d come across one somewhere and I would always put a few games on it, regardless of the condition. In late 2011 I was a few years into my career as a video production specialist, making a decent living, and was going to sell my condo and buy a house. The thought hit me one day, “I wonder if I could buy a pinball machine for my basement in the new house?”. I searched on Craigslist and was shocked to see that you indeed could!
I had no idea what a pinball machine would cost or anything about them. So, I opted to get one from a known retailer. I was a huge Doctor Who fan at the time (Ten is MY doctor) and when I found out Bally/Williams released a Doctor Who machine (I didn’t remember it from my youth), I knew that had to be the one. I ended up buying it from Brian at Retro Home Gamerooms and it still sits in my basement all these years later; a wildly underrated game, in my opinion. “
Q: Did you jump right into repairing machines or did you learn under someone else?
“Oddly enough, my career as a tech almost didn’t come to fruition. For the first 9 months I owned my home, I still had my condo and was paying double mortgage (do not recommend to anyone considering that). Anyway, because I was paying two mortgages, I didn’t have any money for other games. By the time the condo sold, I had had the Doctor Who for 9 months as my only game.
I was a bit tired of playing the same title over and over, and it was a lot of money sitting there. I actually considered selling it! And, that for me, would have probably been the end of pinball — at least for owning. But, I looked on Craigslist and saw two project games for sale — a Gottlieb Count-Down and a Gottlieb Solar Ride. I think they were $350 for the both of them or something ridiculously low. I had a background in hobby electronics and the idea of fixing a machine sounded cool and exciting. So, I made an offer to the guy (who turned out to be Garry, Trident on Pinside) and we struck a deal! Through that deal I became aware of Pinside.com.
I signed up, met others in the local community, and that Count-Down would be the first game I learned on. My mind works by becoming absolutely obsessed with learning everything about a particular topic once I become interested in it. Once pinball repair became an interest, all I did was eat, sleep, and breath pinball repair. I watched all of the This Old Pinball! DVDs, read and re-read Clay’s Repair Guides, bought multiple books on electronics and electronics repair in general, signed up for Clay’s PinballNinja series, read all the old repair procedures manuals-literally anything I could get my hands on and soak up. All the while, buying as many projects as I could to get hands on experience.
So, there wasn’t a huge amount of time between entering the hobby and jumping into repairing them for me. Word slowly got around to other collectors that I had fixed this or that on xyz machine, so then they’d ask me to come look at stuff on their games. I wondered if there were people that weren’t sick like us with 5, 10, 15, 20 games in their basement, but maybe just one or two that could use some help. I started Carolina Pinball Repair and the tech journey began in full stead from there.”
Q: Follow up, Did you have a background in another field that made that transition easier?
“My undergraduate degree is in Media Studies with a concentration in Film and Video Production. I, primarily, worked as a Cinematographer and Editor in that field. Even though it is not directly related, the same type of problem solving and critical thinking skills are similarly needed for both. And, I did have an interest in hobby electronics when I was younger, so I didn’t come into electronics completely wet behind the ears, though there was lots of brushing up to do. “
Q: Some techs have a particular aspect they really enjoy working on or they have a specialized set of skills (ie: boards, EMs, new Sterns, restoring cabinet art, etc) — do you specialize in something? or what’s your favorite aspect to work on?
“My specialty is solid state machines — 1977-present. There isn’t a manufacturer or generation that I won’t work on (though Gottlieb System 80 and Bally 6803 are probably my least favorites).
I’m proficient at all of it, but the two systems which I seem to work on the most and know the most intricately are the Bally 17/35s and the Williams WPC games.
For me, the actual repair work is my favorite part. I like board issues, logic failures, power supply rebuilds, troubleshooting misfirings in the switch or lamp matrix, solenoid issues, etc. The shop outs are the most time consuming and least challenging aspect of repair work, but sometimes they can be therapeutic as it is really like a big LEGO set to take apart and put back together.”
Q: What are you working on now and in the past, What has been your favorite project/game that you worked on?
“My shop stays full of projects with a sizable queue. I just finished up hardtops on a Xenon and a Taxi. NBA Fastbreak recently got wrapped up with a shop and repairs, as did a Pinbot, and I have a World Cup Soccer and rare Spooky Dominos waiting for attention. Someone talked me into taking on a Black Hole I’m sure I’ll regret, but I know it is hard to find a good tech and I’m happy to help. I also have a Banzai Run waiting for a playfield swap, and just picked up six new machines myself (mostly System 11s) which I’ll need to find some time to iron out little kinks.
I enjoy most of all of the machines. I’ve had hands on 100s of different titles and over a 1000 machines over the years. Some I’m especially well acquainted with, like; Addam’s Family, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc. Some of those titles I’ve worked on dozens of times.
Q: What is the best way to contact you and what areas do you service? Do you also operate your own route? If so, would you like to shout out those locations?
“The best way to contact me is through my Web site at http://www.carolinapinballrepair.com or through my Carolina Pinball Facebook site. Some people call me and that is probably the worst way to get ahold of me.
The amount of requests I receive is overwhelming and I am always backed up, many times for months. So, having some form of paper trail electronically is so helpful for me, even though I know stuff still slips off the radar. I’ll be the first to say it, don’t be afraid to bug me! I’ll eventually get to it, even if it takes some extended amount of time.
I used to have some games on location for several years, but took them all off during Covid in 2020. I might one day get back to putting a few on route, but a lot depends on my time. Many of you know that I am also the primary tech for Abari Game Bar in Charlotte, NC. We’ve been down since March 2020, but lookout for Abari returning soon as Super Abari Game Bar in early 2022!”
Have someone you want to nominate to for the Tech of the Month? E-mail [email protected]!