Now that you are ready to restore a game, you should probably find one to restore!
Personally, I don't mind if a cabinet is beat up or not since I'm going to be restoring it anyway. Who cares what it looks like, right?
Well, let me qualify that. I care. The less beat up, the less work I have to do. The more beat up, however, the cheaper the game or cabinet will be. If I can find a beat up game for $100, put another $200 worth of work into it, and the game is worth $600, then I've just doubled my investment.
However, if you're not in it for the money (like me) and you would just rather have a really cool game for a good price and some hard work, well then, cheaper is better :-) The first step is going to be finding a source of cabinets and games, my source was Al Gross here in Phoenix until he passed away. Now my sources are friends, CL, and KLOV.
Most of the cabinets I have access to have been converted to something else and usually painted all black. This is very common because operators want games that will make $$ for them and this is the cheapest way for them to get new games. What you need to keep in mind when getting a cabinet is what its made of and what type of damage has been inflicted upon it.
I sent a Cabinet to the land fill because it was not worth the effort. The cabinet was a converted Frogger cabinet (was converted to Frogger), however it had a lot of water damage to the sides of the cabinet. The problem is that the cabinet is mostly made from Particle board, which when it gets wet, it swells and becomes very brittle once it dries. This makes it very hard to work with.
Once you find a source for cabinets you'll want to know what it USED To be. Most manufactures used similar designs for their cabinets so identifying the manufacture should be easy. If you grew up around arcade games, you should be able to spot games like Defender, Stargate, Dragons Lair, etc... from a mile away.
Games that are harder to tell apart (if they were painted over) are games like Pac Man, Ms. PacMan, Galaga, Galaxian, etc... as their cabinets are very similar. Most of the cabinets looked the same for a lot of different games.
For example, Joust, Robotron and Moon Patrol (and various other Williams games) used the same style of cabinets. PacMan and Ms PacMan cabinets looked identical. Cabinets being similar between games actually helps us, if you don't mind a bit of cheating when it comes to restoration. My preference is to restore a game to what it originally was, however, in some cases, its not really going to matter that much.
If you don't mind cheating, then I don't see why you couldn't use a Ms. PacMan cabinet to restore a PacMan, or a Popeye cabinet to restore a Donkey Kong (Hey! I did that). No one would be able to tell unless they looked at the labels or inside the cabinet.
Once you ID the Manufacture you will want to identify the actual game. In a lot of cases this should be easy based on the art work or even a plate that says what it is (like Nintendo). If the side art is covered up and there are no labels on the game (Like my Robotron Cabinet), then I start by looking at the control panel as this is the easiest to get at.
First thing I do is remove the control panel from the game.
Once its removed, I then remove all the buttons, joystick(s) and I remove the overlay if there is one (and its not the original one). In the case of my Stargate, the original overlay was under the "generic" overlay. What a shame as the Stargate CPO was in PERFECT condition except for the fact that it had 3 new holes in it where it said "Stargate" and where the Joystick is. Robotron wasn't going to be so easy.
Someone removed the original Robotron overlay so I couldn't ID it based on that.
Looking at the control panel, I noticed two black plates that were evenly spaced with a hole right in the center of each plate (that were covered by the new Overlay) Again, several new holes had been drilled for the converted game's buttons destroying the plates. I also identified 2 original button holes (by the style of the holes, versus the new holes). I then looked for pictures of Robotron on the Internet and saw the control panel layout which matched mine perfectly.
So now I knew what I had. I will be attempting to remove the top layer of paint on the sides to see if I was right. I am 99.99% sure that its Robotron at this point.
Still don't know what it is?
Its time to hit the Internet and start asking people on the forums. Make sure you post a picture of it on the forums. Someone will know what it is or what it could have been.
If there are any markings at all on it then post that information as well. I was able to ID a Bosconian cabinet (that was converted to a Galaga 3) by the Kick Panel Art as all other art work was covered up. Sometimes you will get lucky and find a game that was converted to something else, but the OP was too lazy to paint over the original art work. (Like my Side Arms that is in a Dig Dug cabinet).
These I try to grab first as it makes life so much easier when restoring a game. So what did I pay for these cabinets? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Why? They had some damage to the cabinets (top piece of wood and the back doors) and they were sitting out in the yard dyeing a slow death.
Still Can't find a cabinet?
Well, that probably means that you haven't looked hard enough or the people you talked to wanted way too much money. An alternative to this would be to build a cabinet from scratch. Kevin Umbach took the measurements from my Web Site for Defender and did exactly that. Built it all from scratch.
This cabinet looked awesome. Not Interested in using the Original Cabinet? Well, shame on you! That's not restoring! Well, ok, just for the sake of argument, I have included links to some Cabinet Manufactures in case you want to use a different cabinet.
You've found your cabinet, you know what it is, now its time to dismantle it....