Atari Tempest Spinner Upgrade Kit Installation

Pursuing a hobby that involves 30+ year old electronic and mechanical parts comes with its own set of challenges. Repairing old circuit boards is one thing; fixing and maintaining what were often bespoke made parts is another.

Some things are pretty simple to replace where they are standard components – bolts, nuts, screws and washers, fuses, capacitors and transistors. But other parts simply aren’t made any more. The arcade manufacturers are long gone, so it is left to hobbyists to reproduce artwork and parts that collectors simply can’t find any more.

Indeed, many of these new parts are built to improve on the old technology. The LV2000 springs to mind. One of the most frequent failures of the Wells Gardner 6100 series XY color vector monitor is that the low voltage power section of the deflection board takes a crap and dies. The tiny LV2000 is a drop in replacement for this section of the deflection board and runs cooler and bullet-proofs your monitor, making it much more reliable and less prone to breakdown. Do check out the LV2000 if you aren’t familiar with it.

A recent upgrade kit was released by KLOV forum user Tom Guagliardo, which greatly improves the spinner controller found in Atari’s seminal arcade machine Tempest. The spinner uses two plastic “bushings” at the top and bottom ends of the spinner shaft – and these wear out over time, causing the infamous “burr” sound that many of you will be familiar with. If you’re not, take a look at this video for an example of a very worn out Atari spinner!

Hear that sound? Not good. it should be silent and smooth. What Tom has made are brass bushings that are precision built to completely eliminate any play in the spinner knob assembly – thus removing the “burr” sound so common in Tempest arcade machines.

So I took the opportunity to purchase one of the kits recently, and thought I’d document the installation here on the blog. So what do you get for your 18 dollars?

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Basically everything you need:

–  Two Brass Tempest Spinner Bushings
– A replacement Nylon Washer
– Replacement E-Clips (Poodle Rings)
– Spinner Knob Allen Key
– Spinner Flywheel Allen Key
– Detailed instructions

Your Tempest spinner is a pretty simple piece of kit. The game’s manual has a detailed “exploded” view of the parts which is worth referring to:

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Your first task is to get the spinner out of the cabinet:

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Pretty easy job this. Unplug the wiring loom from underneath, remove the spinner knob using the smaller allen key, then unscrew the two bolts that hold either side of the spinner to the control panel. Et voila:

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That white plastic circle is what we are looking to replace. There’s one on top and another underneath. It will just pop out with a screwdriver quite easily. Here’s a comparison of the plastic vs new brass bushing:

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You can see my old plastic bushing is pretty worn, and I was getting some “burr” noise too. In all probability, this is a job I’ll never have to do again once these brass components are installed. Next up – pop the E-clips, loosen the nuts holding the flywheel, and carefully remove the shaft. Once stripped, it’s time to drop in the new parts:

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Make sure the new bushings are tapped in fully using a flat head hammer. It’s important to lubricate the area around the bushings to keep things moving and smooth. I use Atari-approved Nyogel 779 to do the job. That stuff is tricky to find these days, so a drop or two of 2-in-1 oil is a good alternative.

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Putting the spinner back together is as simple as reversing what you did to take it apart. It is vitally important to ensure that the encoder flywheel isn’t fouling the photo-sensors. Hold it in place between the sensors before carefully re-tightening the two nuts to the shaft:

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And here we go:

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Bushings replaced, and everything ready to install back in the cabinet.

Now you may find that your spinner isn’t spinning smoothly at this point, as I did. I found the solution was to remove the nylon washer. What I guess is happening is the overall clearance for the two E-clips at the top and bottom of the shaft, is just marginally too short (we are talking fractions of millimeters here of course!). I don’t think this is anything at all to do with the kit – I’m betting it’s the frame/housing of the spinner itself – I can’t imagine they were produced with any sort of consistent accuracy, and I guess mine is slightly more proud than others. Perhaps Atari’s original bushings were plastic to allow for this, thus giving more flex when the whole shaft is installed. Tom is looking at possibly supplying thinner washers to combat this.

(Update: Tom is now shipping the kit with a thinner nylon washer!)

Anyway, once installed back in the cab, I fired my Tempest up and played a few games:

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The difference is like night and day. The spinner is totally silent, and silky smooth – my scores have improved already!

This is a great upgrade, and I highly recommend it. If you own a Tempest you owe it to yourself to install this kit – it can be done in 30 minutes and is very easy to do. At just $18, it’s well worth doing. Bullet proof your spinner!

Ordering details for the kit is in this forum thread – let Tom know I sent you. He ships internationally from the USA too.

Hope this helps some of you out there in arcade land.

See you next time!

Tony

6 Comments Add yours

  1. virtvic says:

    I know a handsome engineer who could make those bushes – out if any material you like! Perhaps even titanium!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tony says:

    I like your thinking Vic. Titanium bushes indeed! But I’m a sucker for an upgrade. You make ’em I’ll review ’em!

    Like

  3. ringadingding says:

    the thing is, that sound — as bad as it is — is part of the iconic Tempest memory/experience! that being said, as an owner, i really want to buy one of these kits.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Neil McEwan says:

    Nice write up Tony, as always. Now I just need to find a Tempest cabaret so that I can fit this upgrade…..

    Like

  5. potus98v2 says:

    I prefer the “burr” braking. On machines I played, one could play the game fast and smooth without encountering the burr vibration. It was only when you spun the spinner really fast did the burr kick-in. I assumed it was intentionally designed to discourage or penalize players that just tried a button masher (figuratively speaking) approach. It seemed the interface was setup to reward precise spins and stops over wild spinning.

    With a better understanding of why the burr happens, it seems my experience may have been during a sweet spot of bushing degradation. Perhaps the burr would become unavoidable even at normal game speeds which would be terrible. Having the option to upgrade the spinner to a completely smooth operation makes sense.

    Similar to that moment when you finally mustered the courage to place your quarter against the glass to challenge another player; the burr is another example of one of those little things that emulators just can’t capture.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Jules says:

    Tempest is my all-time fave video game ever, thanks for posting this!

    Like

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