Checking Florescent Lights Last Updated on: 6/19/2013

I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information provided here. It is "AS IS" and you are warned to use this information "At your own Risk"

This information is provided to help you restore or convert your video games. The Tips & Tricks are what have worked for other people to some degree. Your mileage will vary depending on your situation.

I really do appreciate the fact that these individuals have spent the time and effort to share their knowledge with us.

If you have a Tip or Trick that you would like to add to my site, please drop me an email.

I reserve the right to edit for content, and formatting.

The other day I decided that I should replace the bulb and the starter on my Side Arms since it was missing when I bought it. So I went to Home Depot and picked up an 18" tube and an FS2 starter. When I got home, I installed the new bulb and starter.

Thinking that I would now have a lighted Marquee, I turned the machine on. *FLASH*. The light came on and went off in the blink of an eye. As did the game itself. No picture, no sound, nothing. Great! Now I have a dead game, I thought to myself.

I got the key to the back of the game (Read "Flat Head Screwdriver") and opened the back. Checked the main fuse and it was toasted.

Ok, now what? Well, what else is one to do? I put up a message on USENET asking "Hey, why did this happen?". Two people responded to my plea for help in under 24 hours. Fanielle was the first to respond and said it was the Ballast. I then got confirmation when Bob Roberts responded and told me the same thing and how to test the light fixture prior to wasting a bulb and a fuse.

Here is Bob's reply to me on USENET:

The problem is the ballast & it has probably already taken the starter, as well. You should replace your flo/starter/ballast ($7.75) in a real fixture, such as yours. To save blowing up fluorescent tubes when restoring a game, simply unplug the light and measure the ballast with an ohmmeter. If good it will read about 26 ohms and you will know that it is safe to install a fluorescent tube.

-- Big Bear Thanks The Real Bob Roberts™ For parts

My thanks to Fanielle and Bob Roberts for their help. Rest assured, I will be testing all my light fixtures in the future.

Shortly after this, Mark Jenison posted another Tip on this very subject. He's reading my mind :-)

Small Tip #5

The other day I picked up a new game in unknown condition. After doing some basic checks, I powered it up and noticed that the marquee was not lit. This happens to a lot of us who have just picked up an old game; either the bulb is out completely, or the light is struggling to start. Well, here's some troubleshooting tips for those pesky fluorescent lights.

First, a few tips on what not to do. Do not just throw in a new bulb automatically! I've seen bad ballasts take out brand new bulbs (my first Sinistar did this), and it's like taking a match to a $5 bill.

Conversely, don't just throw away a fluorescent bulb just because it has dark spotting at the end of the bulb. It is not necessarily bad (but probably won't last much longer, either).

Ok, on to debugging. Make sure the fluorescent assembly is connected, and is getting the AC it needs (should be around 100-120VAC). If this is fine, replace the starter. Commonly, video arcade game fluorescent assemblies use an FS-2 starter, which can be picked up at your local hardware store for around 89 cents, or from an amusement distributor for about half this price. This is the piece of the assembly which looks like a small 1 1/2" tall metal cylinder. It is socketed, so turning it should cause it to pop out.

Usually this is enough to get the assembly working again, especially if the bulb is only partially lighting. If that doesn't fix it, try a new bulb. A new bulb can be picked up at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, any type of Mart store :-), for about $5. Take note of what length you need before you go. [Editors Note: Also check the WATAGE of the bulb, Typically it will be 15W]

If you've got a new bulb and new starter, and STILL the light doesn't light correctly, or the bulb is immediately blown :-(, the only thing left is the ballast. The ballast is the heavy chunck of metal with two wires coming out of it. You can pick these up at your hardware store also for about $8, or from an amusement distributor for half that price. Take note of how the original was connected.

FYI, you can pick up an entire light fixture assembly for like $14 and wire that in if you are desperate.

However, the best way to debug a bad fluorescent assembly is to have a spare working fluorescent assembly. Use the assembly in another video game as a test fixture if you have to. Simply swap starters first, then swap bulbs. If these both work and you know the connections and voltages are correct, replace the ballast. [Editors Note: You should always TEST the balast FIRST to avoid causing more problems]


Working game with non-working fluorescent light bulb Spare working fluorescent assembly (optional)


Your local hardware store should have everything you need, but amusement distributors such as Mazzco and Wico will have most items considerably cheaper. Sometimes it's just nicer to pick up the parts on your way home than to wait a week for mail order. :-)

Advanced Tips

Nintendo games like Donkey Kong use a non-standard light fixture assembly (probably because it uses 100VAC instead of 115-120VAC like most other games). Wico carries the parts for Nintendo light fixtures if you wish to keep the hardware original, but like I said, $14 for a new fixture and it should work fine with only 100VAC. A good source for fluorescent assemblies are trashed Tron cabinets. [Editors Note: I don't agree. If you have a trashed Tron Cabinet, RESTORE IT!! :-)]

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