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Building a $30 pinball shaker motor


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I've been wanting to try out a shaker motor in my cab for a while now. I've honestly never experienced a pinball shaker in real life, so I have no idea whether or not I'm going to like it. Consequently, I'm not thrilled with the prospect of spending $100-$300 on the commercial, plug-n-play shaker motor solutions out there. Nothing against them and there's A LOT to be said for the advantages of "plug-n-play" but it's just not what I'm looking for right now. Plus, if you've encountered any of my other content here ( $500 Budget Full Size Pinball Cabinet) you know I'm all about lowering the barriers to entering this hobby.

 

I already had a nice SSF (Surround Sound Feedback) setup in my cab. So my first attempt was to try to use SSFImpactor to replicated a shaker motor. This worked, I just found it a little underwhelming. My issues were that the shake wasn't as pronounced as I expected it to be, the vibration came with a bit of audible sound that I found weird, and if there was a lot of other audio going on (like music playing) everything else kind of dimmed while the shaker ran. This could be particular to my system. Give it a shot though, you might have better luck. And if you've already got a nice SSF setup with a bass shaker, this is a totally free option.

 

I'd also already read the bit in the virtual pinball bible about shaker motors. It includes a short section on DIY'ing your way to a shaker. But the links it provided were pretty old. None of the specific parts/motors mentioned were available anymore. And in general, it just seemed like not many people were bothering to do this. Then I saw a post by a member of the Virtual Pinball and Vpin Cabinet Builders Facebook group that included some promising photos of a DIY shaker. I followed up with that member, got some tips, and am now taking the plunge. I'll document the process and what I learn here.

 

In full disclosure I expect to spend more than $30. My guess is this will end up costing around $40. Mostly, that's because I don't have any other DOF toys and I'll need to purchase a MOSFET board. I do think you could do the entire thing for $30, depending on what you've already got in terms of your input/output encoder, DOF setup, etc. More on that later though.

 

 

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So, first things first. The most important question you're probably asking is what sort of shaker motor do I need?

 

I should warn you, I'm not an engineer and there's A LOT I don't know. So all I can do is tell you what worked for me. Here's the motor I purchased on Amazon for $28. These things come and go. And when you're reading this, that specific motor may no longer be available. So here's a brief description.

 

BestTong DC 12V-24V 8000RPM 775 Brushed Vibration Motor DOUBLE-HEAD High Torque Electric Vibrating Motors with 2 Iron Rotating Mass

  • Voltage: DC 12V, 24V
  • Speed(no load): 12V-4000RPM/min
  • Speed(no load): 24V-8000RPM/min
  • Vibration motor for aircraft model and massager or other projects which need vibration function
  • Widely used in electric toy, hair dryers, dust cleaner, electrical tools, auto antenna, home appliances, communication equipment, toys moulding, massage machines, etc

 

For me, the most important bits are that it's described as high torque and that it turns at about 4,000/rpm at 12v. Here are some images that show what it looks like and the rough dimensions.

 

 

 

 

shaker-dimensions.jpg

shaker.jpg

 

 

The actual item I received looks a little bit different. The weights are shaped differently and it has what seems to be a magnetic pad wrapped around one end. But, who cares? It's a $28 shaker motor!

 

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  • topper2k changed the title to Building a $30 pinball shaker motor

Next, I wanted to find out if the motor was going to be up to the challenge. (Spolier alert, don't worry, I wouldn't have made you waste all this time if the answer was "no.")

 

Here's my test rig. That's a basic external 12v 5A DC power supply I had lying around. I'll use the power supply already installed in my cab when this is finished.

 

You'll notice there's a controller in between the power supply and the motor. This is a DC motor speed controller. There are lots out there. At the time I'm writing this, this particular controller is available on Amazon for $3.50 and it includes two controllers. Is it necessary? I don't know, but probably. This motor produces a lot of vibration, as you'll see in the next post. I'm going to want to have some way of fine-tuning it and at $1.75/each, it's worth it. (BTW, if you have DIY suggestions for what I might do with the other speed controller, let me know!)

 

The motor is screwed into a 1/2" scrap of plywood using two #4 electrical conduit hangers that I picked up at the local hardware store for $1 each. I could have fabricated my own mounts out of scrap wood. That was my original plan. But a $2 solution is hard to say no to.

 

So if you're keeping track, we're up to about $33 for the motor, two mounts, and one speed control. As I noted, you could fab your own mounts if you're dead set on keeping costs low. You could also deal with the full force of the shaker motor and not put the speed controller on it. I won't know just how necessary that speed control is until I mount it in the cabinet.

 

I've soldered the wires onto the terminals. And connected everything to the power supply. I'll add a diode across the motor terminals as mentioned in the Pinscape guide (linked above) before completing the installation.

 

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Fire in the hole! Here goes something.

 

Test 1. Turning it on for the first time.

 

 

Test 2. Trying to hold the thing down. I only got it turned up about halfway here.

 

 

Yeah. I think this is going to work.

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Looking forward to your progress. 

I am in the slow build part of my cab. I got a motor almost like yours from Ebay. A tiny bit smaller, yours is around 110 cm over all,  mine is around 97 cm. not sure of max rpm. but hey for $13 CDN can't complain. I made a few small metal brackets for mine, just need to get a PWM controller for it or make one from a Nano I have laying around. and do some testing. Love the DIY stuff. or in my case hack and hack again oops more putty too. 

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Ok, time to find out if this motor can shake a whole pinball cabinet. This has been the quintessential question all along. So, I moved my test bed inside my pin cab to find out.

 

I modified my mounting plan. I decided that to maximize the transfer of energy from the motor to the cab, I'd put the mounts directly on the cab itself. I also decided to add a third conduit hanger and put that one on the side of the cab. Will this make a difference? I have no idea (did I mention I'm not an engineer?). But it seemed like a good idea. The more secure the motor is, the more vibration will get transferred to the cab right?

 

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To attach the mounts, I pre drilled some holes and then used lag screws with lock washers to bolt them down. For the side of the cab, I had to add an extra washer or two just to be extra super sure there was no way it would poke through the side and ruin my art.

 

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Here's the motor in the mounts.

 

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Here's my protective box solution. I kicked around a lot of ideas on this. Most people seem to use a plastic project/electrical box of some kind. Well, like all construction supplies, those have become expensive and hard to find during COVID. I tried cutting up a plastic food storage container, but didn't like the result. I finally realized I could've built a box out of scrap wood in the time I'd spent trying to find another solution.

 

Is this overkill? Maybe. Most commercial shakers come with a fairly flimsy clear plastic cover. I think the primary purpose is just to keep anything from accidentally falling on the motor and getting caught up in the spinning weights.

 

But what if one of those weights came loose? They're heavy and moving fast. I think they'd shred those plastic covers in an instant. This is probably not a big deal if you're dealing with a commercial shaker. They're designed for this. They have mounts that are tested and known to withstand the force of the shaker. Mine? Yeah, not so much. I don't know what's going to happen to these conduit hangers after a few months or years of use. I can check periodically, but if anything did break free, I want some protection for the items inside my cab. So a sturdy wooden box, secured with some pocket screws seems like a great solution (and it's free).

 

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So? What's the verdict. Here, let me show you.

 

 

It's really hard to capture. I decided to try filming the tilt bob, because you can get some idea of how much shaking is going on. And how much shaking is going on? A whole lotta shaking is going on baby!

 

Does it compare to a real pinball shaker? I don't know yet. I'll need to go visit my local arcade and try and find a machine with a shaker. Does it move and hop around the room? No. Honestly, that would freak me out and I'd be scared for the PC components inside. Others have described their DIY shaker motors as feeling like a cell phone vibrating. This is MUCH stronger than that. It's a pronounced rumble that will grab your attention. But the cabinet isn't moving. You can see when the motor peaks at around 9 seconds into the video. The tilt bob starts hopping a bit, not just vibrating.

 

It needs much more power than the tests did when mounted to scrap wood. Which makes sense. The cab is much bigger and heavier. I'll probably have it about 85% up. That seems to be the sweet spot.

 

But if you want to save a couple dollars (literally a couple dollars) you could probably skip the DC speed control with this specific motor. The full force of the motor produces a nice shake and it doesn't really have to be mitigated.

 

Coming up next up is the standard DOF stuff you'd have to do with any shaker.

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Ok, with the shaker motor mount and cover all worked out, it was time to add the mosfet board and get everything in place.

 

Here's a closeup of the wire routing. You can't see it, but I've added a diode across the terminals as instructed in the Pinscape guide.

 

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I spent a lot of time thinking about where to mount the speed control. I entertained attaching it to the cover, but that'd be a pain anytime I needed to remove the cover. I thought about putting it somewhere far away, like with my Pinscape or audio amps. With the layout of my cab, none of those were super great options either. Here's what I settled on. The speed control is tucked up under the motor which will all be under the cover. This means I have to remove the cover to adjust the speed. It also means I need to shut the motor off to adjust the speed. None of this is ideal, but it'll work for me. I've already worked out how high to turn up the dial. So it's not like I anticipate fiddling with it a bunch.

 

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It looks like the diode is coming in contact with the motor. It's not. It's not even close in reality. Still, this makes me think this might not have been the best way to attach the diode. Across the output terminals on the speed control would probably have been a better choice. If/when it fails, that's what I'll do.

 

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Cover back on and things tidied up a bit.

 

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Here's the mosfet I settled on. It's single channel. If you're planning any more toys, get a 4 (or more) channel board. I'm confident this is all I'm adding, so I went with this one for $7.

 

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Here's a close up of the mosfet board. Just above the 12v output terminals (right side) that looks like it's got a diode across the terminals. Maybe I didn't need an additional one at the motor, but it can't hurt.

 

The wires coming out the top in the above photo go back to my KL25Z/Pinscape. Red wire goes to a Pinscape PWM output pin and the brown wire goes to a ground. Per some advice from members of the Facebook Vpin Cabinet Builders group (and the wiring diagram below), I added a 1k ohm resistor in the middle of the red (signal) wire. Bottom of the mosfet (as the pic above is oriented) has the 12v power coming in on the left side. And the output to the DC speed control is on the right.

 

This is all a lot harder to explain than to diagram. Someone shared this photo with me. It's the best explainer for hooking up a mosfet I've seen.

RedMOSFETandPINSCAPE02Unsafe@12.thumb.jpg.b4a0a14785882042c9ed9774f5069649.jpg

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Next was setting up all the DOF config stuff. I didn't take screenshots, so I'll try to explain.

 

Setup the output pin in the Pinscape config tool first. Open the Pinscape program and scroll all the way down to the bottom to the outputs section. Now it's just a matter of finding the pin you plugged the signal wire into, looking up the port associated with it. Ideally you want this to be a PWM output pin, not a standard digital output (if you choose a PWM output the game will be able to adjust the intensity of the shaker effect, with a digital output it will just be on/off). For me, it was port 10. Next, test the port. There's a "test outputs" button just above the port assignments. Click the button, find your port and turn it on. Your motor should fire up just like the video below.

 

 

Now, you go to the online DOF Config tool. I'm assuming you generally know how to use this already. If not, go watch some tutorials about it and come back. Under port assignments I selected my Pinscape device and assigned port 10 to the shaker. Then you save, generate the config, and update your Direct Output folder like with any DOF change.

 

That's it. It should be working now.

 

One final test, download the DOF Test Table for VPX. Run it and press the S key on your keyboard. It should trigger your shaker motor.

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Conclusion:

 

This totally worked.

 

I could stop there, but I mean, you've stuck with me this far...

 

I'm super happy with this effect. I played Attack From Mars and when the shaker motor triggered I literally laughed out loud (it shakes each time you hit the saucer after dropping the shield, and when you destroy the saucer). As I've said before, I don't know how this compares to a real pinball shaker motor. Honestly, I don't care. I actually turned the effect down a little more than during initial testing. I have it about 60-70% of the way up. I'm less concerned with whether this feels like a "real" pinball shaker and more concerned with whether it's a fun, useful effect in my cabinet and whether the cost (in time and money) was worth it. And by those measures, this is a HUGE win. You really do feel the whole cab vibrate, it puts a smile on my face every time, and it was dirt cheap. The cost/fun ratio on this is off the chart as far as I'm concerned.

 

Expenses:

  • Shaker motor: $28
  • Speed control: $1.75 (two for $3.50)
  • Mosfet: $7
  • Conduit hangers: $3
  • Diode + resistor: $3.50


Total: $43.25

 

All prices are U.S. dollars including shipping.

 

Cost Comparison:

 

Let's compare that to the cost of a commercial solution. Prices vary on these. I've seen some kits in the $200+ range. The most affordable option I could find was from Pinball Life (and if you don't want to DIY it, I recommend you check them out). It's about $100 once you add in shipping. But it's not everything you need. You're still going to need a mosfet (assuming you don't already have one and/or have one of the varieties of Pinscape with expansion boards). You're still going to need a speed control. You're going to need the resistors and diode. So for an apples to apples comparison (motor, mounts, box), this DIY option costs $31  vs. around $100 for the same pieces from Pinball Life. (And again, if you don't want to DIY this, I highly recommend Pinball Life.)

 

Final Thoughts:

 

If you really wanted an even more affordable solution, you could opt for a slightly smaller motor. (Best Tong has a little brother to this one on Amazon that's about $22.) I can't guarantee that will work as well, but given that I'm running at 60-70%, chances are good that you'll get a satisfactory result. You could also skip the speed control (on this or the smaller motor) and just run it all out. You'd still be able to adjust the max intensity via the DOF config tool settings. But I think it's worth the $1.75 to have some direct control over the motor speed.

 

And it's worth stating again that I don't know how this compares to a real pinball shaker motor. What I know is that it produces a pronounced effect that grabs your attention and feels unlike anything I've experienced with just SSF (including the SSF Impactor shaker simulation). It's a really fun effect that is surprising and unique and well worth the cost and effort involved in installing it.

 

 

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great write up. thank you for taking the time to follow up.

Aren't pocket holes great for many things :) . cant wait to try mine out smaller but hope it brings a smile too. 

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  • 2 months later...

Ok a brief update. Earlier in the thread I mentioned that I hadn't experienced a pinball machine with a shaker motor in real life, so I couldn't really say how mine compared.

 

Well, this weekend I hit Flippers Arcade & Pinball Museum while vacationing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It's a great place with an amazing collection of pinball tables all set to free play ($9 admission for 2-hours). Anyway, they had several machines with shaker motors including AC/DC, Medieval Madness, and Earthquake, to name just a few.

 

I can now confidently say, this DIY shaker motor performs just as well as a "real" pinball shaker motor. The effect I get from my shaker is every bit as dramatic as the tables mentioned above.

 

Cheers all!

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  • 5 weeks later...

Couple of quick questions...

 

• Is the motor loud when playing, or once everything is closed up and you have the sound cranked up you don't hear it (just feel it)?

 

• Also, in the early test videos it looked like there was a lag while the motor started up and it took a while for it to get up to speed, is that the case when playing?

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12 minutes ago, PhotoRay said:

Couple of quick questions...

 

• Is the motor loud when playing, or once everything is closed up and you have the sound cranked up you don't hear it (just feel it)?

 

• Also, in the early test videos it looked like there was a lag while the motor started up and it took a while for it to get up to speed, is that the case when playing?

 

The motor is not very loud. You mostly feel it, but the vibration itself makes some noise, similar to the way your cell phone vibrating on a table top will.

 

In the test videos, I'm turning on the RPM speed control and slowly ramping it up. When it kicks on during a game it's instantaneous. 

 

I've found that the RPM speed control is really helpful. I'd assumed that the faster the motor turned, the greater the shaking effect would be. That's true to a point, but about 3/4 of the way up, the cab actually starts to vibrate a little less and I do get more noise. With the speed control, you can find the sweet spot where you get just the effect you want.

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