Pinball Machines: Top 5 Musicians Edition

Posted by Scott 15 JUNE 2015

In an earlier article, Home Leisure Direct shared our top picks for Marvel pinball tables. Now it’s time to do the same with pinball machines featuring well-known music artists. Luckily, there are more candidates to choose from this time around, and as a result, our list has a better, well-balanced representation of pinball manufacturers.

We hope you enjoy this list of the best musician-themed pinball tables of all time. And who knows? You might just learn a little history about music in pop culture as well.

These tables are in no particular order…


AC DC Stern Pinball Machine

Let’s start with a Stern Pinball table, shall we? The AC/DC table was designed by Steve Ritchie. What more do you need to know? He is one of the best designers out there, so you know this game is going to be good!

Stern released this gem in 2012, and it was not exempt from the multiple-editions treatment that Stern is famous (or infamous?) for. AC/DC was released in five different editions: Pro, Premium, the Back in Black Limited Edition, the Let There Be Rock Limited Edition, and the Luci Premium edition (“Luci” is short for Lucifer, who is apparently a woman, according to the table’s artwork).

But whatever edition you have the good fortune to play, you know it’s going to rock! AC/DC style. This pin game is loaded with classic songs, incredibly flashy artwork, lots of AC/DC-themed toys on the playfield, and a complicated ruleset that will keep you coming back for more just to figure out what the heck is going on in this game. 

The table looks amazing, plays amazing, and because it’s AC/DC, it sounds amazing!


Stern KISS Pinball Machine - Limited Edition

Maybe it’s just nostalgia talking here, but KISS still holds up as a pinball table even after all these years. It was designed by Jim Patla and released in 1978 by Bally, just one year after the very first mainstream SS (solid state) table was released. And it shows—KISS still has that EM (electro-mechanical) feel to it, but that just adds to its charm.

When the game first starts, you are treated to a very simple version of “I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night,” which is nowhere close to the audio quality we are used to in our pin machines these days. After the intro song, you’ll experience gameplay from a bygone era that is still fun today. At the top center, all four band members are featured on bumpers, and there are multiple sets of targets distributed throughout the playfield that spell out the name of the band. The table’s artwork is pure delight to look at. Overall, this is a great table from 1978.

Fun fact: Stern is releasing their own KISS table this year. We can’t wait to see how it performs. Another fun fact: Kevin O’Connor is the artist behind both KISS tables. 

The Who’s Tommy Pinball Wizard and Capt. Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy

There was a time when pinball was associated with a particular movie from 1975: Tommy, a musical featuring the band members of The Who. The film itself was based on the band’s rock opera album, also titled Tommy (released in 1969).

Since the movie is about a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball and decides to start a cult based on his mad skills (don’t think about it too hard; it was the 70s), it was a no-brainer to make a pinball table based on the movie.

Actually, there were three pinball tables inspired by the movie. Besides the two on this list, there was one more, Wizard!, that was released in 1974, but we’re going to ignore that one.

Instead, let’s talk about the good games. Capt. Fantastic, designed by Greg Kmiec and featuring the artwork of Dave Christensen, is an excellent example of an EM table. It was released by Bally in 1975, the same year in which Elton John released his album of the same name. The backglass displays Elton John as his character from the movie. Beautiful art and fantastic gameplay make this one a must-play classic for any fans of pinball.

The Who’s Tommy wasn’t released until 1994, but Data East made up for lost time by giving pinball fans an excellent mid-90s game that holds up well and plays the songs from the movie. One of the crazy features of the game was a “blinders” toy that would block the player’s view of the flippers in order to simulate the pinball prowess of Tommy from the movie. Very creative.


Metallica Premium Stern Pinball Machine

Stern took a slightly different approach from AC/DC with this one. Instead of listening to the entire song playlist during gameplay, the player just picks one of the classic Metallica songs to jam to.

This table just oozes dark, Metallic flavor. What an artistic masterpiece! Fortunately, the gameplay is just as good as the visual presentation. The table was designed by John Borg, a Stern regular, and the art was done by Donny Gillies, who is known for his work with Metallica. Stern unleashed Metallica in 2013—their tables have been getting better and better with each passing year! Not only is Metalica a great tribute to the band, it is also a great example of fast and aggressive pinball.

Guns N’ Roses

guns and roses pinball machine.jpg

John Borg was also part of the design team that made this incredible pin. Guns N’ Roses was released in 1994 by Data East. It is a solid example of 90s pinball greatness. Lots of cool ramps and game modes. Great music and lighting effects too. Seriously, it feels like you’re at a concert while playing this one. 

Because of the ramp-heavy gameplay, the bottom playfield is mostly open, but that just makes those shots up the ramps even more satisfying. This game is rough and difficult, but what a blast to play when you start getting the feel of it! This is definitely another Data East must-play. And who doesn’t like having a revolver as the plunger? Sweet Child O’ Mine!


Elvis Pinball Machine Full Body Front Cabinet Home Leisure Direct Showroom

Okay, one more Stern table. This last one is notable for its fantastic design by Steve Ritchie and for its incredible use of Elvis themes and music. You might be asking, “How do you make a table about Elvis?” 

Well, first you need literal representations of some of the classic songs, like an actual jailhouse, hound dog, and heartbreak hotel on the playfields. Then, you throw in a singing and dancing Elvis right on center stage—they actually programmed him in sync with the music! And finally, you need lots of classic Elvis songs from original recordings: Blue Suede Shoes, Jailhouse Rock,  Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel, All Shook Up, Burning Love, and See See Rider.

The team behind this table obviously had a lot of fun and inspiration while creating it. Their passion shows in the visual presentation, especially in the Elvis model, and the game is a lot of fun to play. The primary goal is to “collect” Elvis songs and work your way up the charts with each new hit. Brilliant stuff here. Stern released this table in 2004, and it still holds up as one of their best attempts at capturing the spirit of an artist’s musical career.

Honorable Mentions

This edition of Home Leisure Direct’s Best of Pinball has brought you our picks for the top musician-themed tables. As you can see, this is by no means an exhaustive list of every musical artist table out there, but we hope you have enjoyed it even if your personal favorite didn’t make the cut. As a parting gift, we want to share a few other tables that didn’t make this list due to not meeting the requirements. 

Monster Bash (Williams, 1998) is a classic pin that we wish featured an actual band—how cool would it be if the Universal Studios’ classic monster gang were an actual band! Sadly, they are fictitious, but the pin table still honors their greatness as the band that never was. 

The second mention is a collection of virtual tables for your smartphone or tablet. Pinball Rocks contains four tables inspired by four different bands: Alice in Chains, Bullet for My Valentine, AC/DC, and Slayer. Each table is housed in a concert stadium environment, which is a very nice aesthetic to the game. This collection might be worth checking out if you like virtual pinball.

Whatever pin you choose to play next, rock on, fellow pinheads!

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