For Those About to Rock: How to Play Stern's AC/DC Pinball

For Those About to Rock: How to Play Stern's AC/DC Pinball
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For Those About to Rock: How to Play Stern's AC/DC Pinball
Published on
September 20, 2023
Updated on
September 20, 2023
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Released in 2012, AC/DC might seem like another entry in Stern's seemingly endless barrage of rock-themed pinball machines, but it served as a mini-renaissance: it was one of the first games to come in three differing versions (Pro, Premium, LE), and marked a shift towards simpler layouts and more straightforward rulesets which secretly harbor extreme strategic depth. That’s not to say AC/DC isn’t complicated - if you’ve played it already, you might’ve felt lost in a haze of bizarre rules and unclear objectives - but the actual concepts aren’t super difficult to pick up.

Point is, AC/DC is awesome. The playfield may appear boring at first glance, but Steve Ritchie’s legendary flow is at full force here. The Lyman Sheats-designed rules are incredible, and you'll constantly be scratching your head as to what to do next, or kicking yourself for trying to triple that song jackpot and losing out on a massive pile of points. It's a popular game for use in competition given how complex the strategy can be - so if you haven’t played it in a tournament yet, odds are, you will at some point.

About AC/DC Pinball

AC/DC is a pinball game manufactured by Stern Pinball Inc. in 2012. The game is themed for the rock music group of the same name and features a selection of songs from AC/DC's song catalog at the time of release.

AC/DC Pinball Playfield Overview

At first glance, AC/DC won't have a ton going for it. There are two ramps, two loops, a spinner, three banks of targets, a lane shot into a bell, pop bumpers, lanes - you know, the usual stuff. What might stand out most is the cannon on top of the right slingshot - we'll cover this in detail, but it's incredibly significant for scoring (and somehow serves as an homage to Steve Ritchie's classic Terminator 2).

AC/DC can be rather punishing. Most shots are aligned to instantly kill you should you miss, especially the bell shot (which often kills you on success). But it's also a very smoothly designed game. Get comfortable with where the five major playfield shots are - the two loops, the bell, and the ramps - since you're gonna need to hit them all a whole lot. The ramps, in particular, are very important, as they keep the ball under control on consistent hits. (Also, going forward, any time I refer to “the five major shots,” I mean the ramps, loops, and bell.)

The best part of AC/DC's design is the absurd number of backhands. Nearly every shot is possible from either flipper, the major exceptions usually being the bell from the left flipper and the right loop from the right flipper. If you’re new to pinball, backhands tend to be safer than cross-field shots because they introduce less horizontal motion. Get comfortable with those backhands, especially on the ramps. If you can repeatedly backhand either ramp (it does not matter which one), you’re gonna be in good shape.

AC/DC is one of the earliest examples of Stern’s method of separating games into two models, a Pro and a Premium/LE. The biggest difference between the two versions is that the Premium/LE has a mini playfield underneath the main table which the Pro is missing. We’ll go over that later, but there are only three other functional differences: 

  • All targets are standups on the Pro, whereas the Premium/LE has drop targets for the TNT and AC/DC banks
  • The Bell shot is a swinging bell with a scoop behind it on the Premium/LE, with a lane that the ball will be fed to on kickout, whereas the Pro just has a lane with a standup target at the back of it
  • The Premium/LE has a diverter exclusive to the Premium/LE which can send the ball over from the left side to the right side

Finally, I do want to warn you that AC/DC is absurdly complicated with many weird and obtuse rules that affect scoring in minor ways. This is not a comprehensive tutorial, although we should be covering most of the major scoring features and objectives that you should be aware of.

Scoring in AC/DC can vary wildly. We’ll get more into it later, but AC/DC is full of massive one-shot jackpots which can effectively double or triple your score. If it's playing mean, scores of 10,000,000 are common, but if players can get into a groove, scores of 50,000,000 or higher are definitely in the cards, and scores that are significantly higher are also very possible.

Abridged AC/DC Pinball Tutorial

  • You’re always playing one song (i.e. mode). Each song corresponds to a major feature on the playfield, generally, song modes involve shooting that shot, then everything else. 
  • You don’t have to change the songs if you don’t want to. Picking Hells Bells and never changing the song is a totally viable option. Alternatively, you can just pick War Machine and shoot the left spinner all day.
  • Mode points are also added to the Song Jackpot. Spelling F-I-R-E on the inlanes three times lights the Cannon on the right ramp to collect the Song Jackpot, which is worth an absurd number of points. You lose your entire jackpot if you drain, though - so get it while it lasts.
  • Shooting ramps, loops, and target banks will advance you towards Jam, Tour, and Album multiball, respectively. Right ramp starts each multiball when lit. Jackpots during each multiball are the same as whatever you shot to start it (such as target banks for Album). If nothing else major is going on, just progress towards Jam by shooting ramps, especially if you can loop one ramp as a backhand repeatedly.
  • Hitting all five major playfield shots during multiball adds a ball into play. The skill shot (to the A-X-E lanes) adds a VIP Pass which can be spent during any multiball to spot one of those five shots. Pay attention to the shots you need.
  • Shooting the bell three times will double playfield scoring for 20 seconds. Three hits during double playfield will start triple playfield for 20 seconds. Every hit to the bell resets the clock to 20 seconds, but the bell is a dangerous shot.
  • A double or triple song jackpot is where the monster paydays come from. Consider starting a playfield multiplier before cashing a particularly large song jackpot.

AC/DC Song Modes

AC/DC features a twelve-song setlist. At the beginning of the game, you get to choose one song before plunging your ball, which determines what you're listening to as you play. But, be careful: this isn't purely cosmetic! Each song also is a mode, with its own unique rules. There are minor differences between each mode, with small little scoring quirks that vary pretty greatly. Not to worry, as the gist of the modes is pretty much the same for all twelve.

Each mode has no timer, will run through all other scoring features (namely, multiballs), carries over from ball to ball, and only ends when you choose to change your mode. We’ll cover that in a bit, but the general idea is that modes can’t be “completed” in a traditional sense - they’ll just run indefinitely until you choose a new mode.

Each mode has one “key” shot associated with it. Generally, the goal in any mode is to shoot the key shot, which usually lights the five major shots (the ramps, loops, and bell) for extra points. How the values are determined varies, but I'd argue you don't need to worry too much about those minor rules since understanding what shot each mode is associated with is far more important anyway.

The available songs, and their key shots, are as follows:

  • For Those About To Rock: FIRE lanes (inlanes/outlanes)
  • Back In Black: AC/DC targets
  • War Machine: Left Loop (Spinner)
  • Rock N Roll Train: Left Ramp
  • Hells Bells: Bell Shot
  • Thunderstruck: Ramp Targets (the skinny blue targets next to the ramps)
  • TNT: TNT targets
  • Highway to Hell: Right Ramp
  • Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be: Right Loop
  • Let There Be Rock: ROCK targets
  • Whole Lotta Rosie: AXE lanes (up top)
  • You Shook Me All Night Long: Bumpers

So, based on the song you're playing, the strategy is typically "shoot the key shot, then shoot other stuff, repeat." Back in Black, for instance, is "clear the AC/DC targets, then shoot everything, repeat." Now, there is still value in shooting the key shot, even with everything else lit - you don’t necessarily have to alternate, but don’t ignore the value there. 

In case you forget which song is which, when selecting your song, the inserts for that song's feature will usually light up to give you a clue as to what you're shooting for. It’s also helpful for when the machine’s operator has modified the game to have different songs. A modified setlist is purely a cosmetic change; it won’t affect the rules of each mode, but it will mean the names of the modes have been changed. After all, the setlist here pretty strongly favors Black Ice (AC/DC’s newest album at the time of the table’s release), and shamefully omits classics like Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Shoot to Thrill.

Song choice is a big deal in AC/DC, and enables numerous strategies to be viable, but it shouldn’t be your primary focus. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to understand and capitalize on, but you shouldn’t just be focusing on making shots because they’re worth points in the song you’re playing. Your focus should mainly be on multiballs, scoring mode points tangentially. We’ll go over some more detailed mode selection strategies later, but if you’re just looking to put up a solid score without thinking too hard, you can pick Hells Bells for now.

Changing Songs

You might have noticed the jukebox on the back of the playfield. The current song you're playing will be flashing. Hitting a key shot of a song you're not playing will cause that song to light up on the jukebox. For instance, if you're playing Hells Bells, and you make a shot to the left ramp, Rock N Roll Train will light up on the jukebox. For the modes that focus on lanes or target banks, you have to complete the lanes/banks. For You Shook Me All Night Long, you have to hit the bumpers a lot - the display will tell you "10 more" or something like that.

Once you've lit up eight songs on the jukebox, you can shoot the ball around the right loop and into the saucer up top to change the song. You'll automatically go up to the top saucer for free on the plunge, so if you have eight songs lit already, you can change the song at the start of the next ball. You also have the option to keep playing the same song - this resets the jukebox, so you’ll need to relight eight songs on the jukebox to change your song again. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your song the same - if you’re playing the aforementioned Hells Bells strategy, I suggest that you don’t ever change the song.

Changing your song “completes” it. Technically, you can complete a song without making a single shot to it (i.e. hitting eight things without ever hitting the key shot), so it’s not really “completing” it in the conventional sense. While completing a song does award some small points in bonus, and completing all twelve gets you to a very valuable wizard mode, it also prevents you from ever picking that song again. Contrary to how it may seem, there’s nothing wrong with declining progress towards wizard mode in favor of a mode you really like. It’s extremely hard to get there anyway, so don’t worry about it!

Song Jackpot

All points scored during a mode are not only scored immediately, they are also added to the "Song Jackpot." The Song Jackpot has a minimum value of 1,000,000 points - which isn't very much - but if you play a mode for 5,000,000 points, now the song jackpot is worth 6,000,000 points. Still not too much. But, since there's no upper bound to the song jackpot, you’re always playing a mode, AND you can multiply the song jackpot with playfield multipliers (which we’ll cover in a minute), the song jackpot is incredibly valuable and VERY important to success on AC/DC. It's not uncommon to see song jackpots worth well over 20,000,000 points pre-multiplier.

To score the Song Jackpot, you have to spell F-I-R-E on the inlanes three times, although one shot at the song jackpot is available at game start. When you've completed it, you can then shoot the ball up the right ramp which will feed the cannon. You'll know the cannon is lit by a lit yellow "cannon" insert above the flippers. From there, the cannon will rotate out and aim at the AC/DC targets, with one light flashing for the Song Jackpot. Press the Fire button on the lockbar to fire the cannon - hit the blinking target, and you'll get that song jackpot, which will reset it back to 1,000,000. Miss it, and you'll have to spell FIRE three more times to get another shot, but the value will stay.

It might be worth not cashing in a song jackpot if you want to build it higher up, or score it with a playfield multiplier. In this case, I recommend aiming for the bell with the cannon, instead - it's a bit of a safer shot, and helps get you to those coveted playfield multipliers. That said, draining your ball will cause you to lose your entire song jackpot. So, it's a bit of a risk/reward scenario.

It should be noted that the Cannon can be lit for other jackpots after making ramps, loops, lanes, bumpers, etc., called things like “Ramp Jackpot,” “Lane Jackpot” or “Combo Jackpot,” for example. If there are multiple awards available on one cannon shot, each award will be tied to a different target (the display will tell you which jackpot is available at which target), but it means that with three or more jackpots available, it becomes borderline impossible to collect all of them since you only get one fire of the cannon. If there are multiple jackpots available, try and aim between two targets so you can get at least two of them, but remember to only collect jackpots which are worth considerable value as the drops on the left are pretty dangerous for right outlane drains.

Playfield Multipliers

Honestly, this is pretty simple. The bell shot is responsible for all playfield multipliers. Hitting the bell three times will begin a 2X playfield multiplier for 20 seconds, during which all scoring is doubled. Hitting the bell during 2X playfield will reset the timer to 20 seconds, and hitting it three times during 2X playfield will start 3X playfield for 20 seconds. Again, during 3X playfield, any hits to the bell will reset the clock.

It's never a bad idea to try to build up your playfield multiplier before cashing in a huge song jackpot or playing any multiball. But, the bell is far and away the most dangerous shot on the table. A missed hit is almost guaranteed to drain you, a successful hit is still pretty liable to drain you. So, be careful.

As a quick aside, when you’re about to shoot for a song jackpot, the game will indicate the value of the song jackpot before you fire the cannon. This value is displayed pre-multiplier, meaning if you have a playfield X active, it won’t be multiplied beforehand. So, if the game says the song jackpot is worth 15,000,000 points, and you have 3X playfield running, collecting the jackpot will be worth 45,000,000 points.


AC/DC has three main multiballs: Album multiball, Tour multiball, and Jam multiball. Each multiball corresponds to a different playfield feature: Jam is ramps, Album is targets, and Tour is loops. Hitting enough ramps, target banks, or loops will light the corresponding multiball at the right ramp. The display will tell you how many shots you need to light the multiball. No locks are necessary: just shoot the ball up the ramp once the insert is flashing, and you're in business.

Each multiball has pretty straightforward rules. Jam and Tour are both 2-ball affairs, Album is a 3-ball multiball. During each multiball, any shot to the corresponding feature will award a jackpot (such as hitting a ramp in Jam). Multiballs begin with a cannon shot, during which you can collect a jackpot. During any multiball, song scoring is still active. You can still build up song jackpots, light (and score) song jackpots, activate playfield multipliers, and progress towards your next song (though you can’t change your song until the multiball ends). You cannot progress towards or start one multiball while you're playing another, and each multiball will require more shots to light than the last. You can also get an add-a-ball during a multiball by hitting all five of the major playfield shots at some point during the multiball.

One key element of Album and Tour multiballs is that each jackpot you score is named after an album or tour in AC/DC's history, progressing chronologically from oldest to newest. In the event that the song you're playing came from that album or tour, you'll score a "song bonus" which is worth the entire value of the song jackpot (without resetting the value). For instance, the first jackpot scored during Album multiball will be "High Voltage," AC/DC's debut album. If you're currently playing the song TNT - which appears on High Voltage - you'll get the song bonus. This is no small prize - syncing your song with your album/tour jackpots are definitely worth some serious value. (Jam doesn't have a comparable feature.) Of course, this requires knowledge of AC/DC’s discography, which I admittedly don’t have.

There are super jackpots available after collecting twenty jackpots in any given multiball (14 in Album, since that's how many albums there are), which are awarded by a cannon shot to the bell. The super is worth the lump sum of all jackpots scored up to that point, which is great value. Not only that, you keep progress on how many jackpots you've scored during multiballs - which is good to know for what Album or Tour you've made it up to.

Finally, an easy rule to remember: Jam is always the easiest mode to light. The only exception to this is when there’s literally one shot remaining on one of the other two. Even then, between fifteen ramps and one bank of targets, I’m probably taking the ramps.


While you can't start one multiball during another, you can light two or three multiballs before starting them, at which point you'll start all lit multiballs. So, if you light Jam and Tour at the same time, shooting the right ramp will start a multiball during which Jam and Tour jackpots will both be available, also known as a Double Multiball. Starting all three is a Triple Multiball. Aside from multiplying the opening cannon fire by the number of multiballs you play, there aren’t many upsides to combining multiballs. The only real thing of note is that Triple Multiball has a special Triple Multiball Jackpot awarded at the bell, lit after collecting one of each type of jackpot.

There's some merit in going for the stacked multiballs in that the points are far more frenetic and plentiful all at once, though it's also argued that playing three single multiballs is better than playing one triple multiball. I'm kinda torn, I'll definitely shoot for that single multiball if I have one lit - but if I'm pretty close to that third multiball, I usually will go for it. It's a pretty nice payday.

The other thing to factor into your multiball is your song choice. While there are absolutely strategies that involve never changing songs, if you are interested in changing them, picking songs that favor shots to what you're already shooting for in the multiball is a good idea. (For instance, if you're about to play Jam, it's better to have a ramp mode running than a loop mode.) Double or Triple multiballs often favor "neutral" modes that don't use a ramp, loop, or target bank as its main shot (such as Hells Bells or Whole Lotta Rosie).

Skill Shots & VIP Passes

It's a bit late to get into this now, I guess...but AC/DC features two skill shots. The plunge will more or less always go into the scoop up top. From there, it'll kick out into the AXE lanes, where you can flip to change one blinking lane. If the ball lands in the flashing lane, you'll get some small points, some bonus multipliers, and a VIP pass. If you're holding up the right flipper as the ball kicks out of the scoop, however, it'll go down to the flippers, where making any major shot will award more points, more bonus X, and two VIP passes.

VIP passes are pretty important: during regular play, you can press the Fire button to basically spot one hit to the main feature for free, which is pretty worthless. But, during a multiball, it spots one of the five major shots for an Add-A-Ball. So, if you've made four shots, and drain one of your two balls, use the VIP pass to get the last one for free, and you get your ball back. Whether or not going for two passes is worth it is up to you. It's risk/reward again: you're basically guaranteed to get one for free, but having two is a pretty significant advantage. I personally just take the one, but honestly, there's not really a wrong answer here.

Hell Lower Playfield (Premium/LE)

This will be quick: the Premium/LE has a mini playfield underneath the main table, often called “The Underworld” or “Hell.” This is accessed during some songs as another way for mode scoring, but it’s honestly pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. There aren’t any special multiballs or major features that use Hell in a complex way. Basically, any song that has the word “Hell” in the title of the song will put you onto the mini playfield the first time you make a successful shot to that song’s key feature. So, Hells Bells starts there with a shot to the Bell, Highway to Hell on the right ramp, etc (This assumes that the songs haven’t been changed, by the way.)

When you’re in Hell, just play around and shoot whatever’s flashing. There’s not really much to it. It’s not really worth very much, either. The biggest upside is that modes which use the lower playfield build up the upper playfield mode shots, but even then, it’s kind of marginal. I’d say that it’s a nice little perk, but it doesn’t make anything really valuable or anything.

AC/DC Pinball Strategies

Other than that, there are some weird super-scoring modes, mystery awards that don't do that much, target bank combos....but none of it is really that valuable. Instead, let's just focus on some commonly-used strategies that people take when choosing songs.

  1. Hells Bells all day - This is arguably the easiest strategy to wrap one's head around, and the one that I’ve been talking about all this time. If you just pick Hells Bells, you can just keep playing that and never change the song. Go after multiballs, and then focus on the bell to get your playfield X going, and get paid from Hells Bells without even trying. After all, you're going after the bell for the multipliers anyway, why not get paid for doing so?
  2. War Machine all day - The War Machine mode focuses entirely on the spinner. It's insanely lucrative, and many players just pick War Machine and just shoot the spinner all day to get paid. Certainly a very valid strategy, even if it means you're never changing your song. Nothing wrong with that, though.
  3. Jam takes priority, change to accommodate - Start off with either Rock N Roll Train or Highway To Hell (they’re both good) and then shoot the ramps until you eventually get Jam lit. (I find it's easiest to just backhand the same ramp over and over until multiball is lit.) Once you play your multiball, it's likely you'll have a song change ready afterwards - so switch to a "neutral" song until your next multiball is ready, then switch your song to one which covers your bases a bit better. This is a valid strategy, but requires knowing each song's focus.

Of course, there are many, many others. Figure out what works well for you! AC/DC is tons of fun and there are so many good strategies that I can't really even list them all here. But experiment! Have fun with it! It's one of the things that makes AC/DC such a great game.


This is the final wizard mode of AC/DC, which is accessed after finishing all twelve songs and changing your song one final time. Encore is a bit of a weird wizard mode, it's basically it's own game where you have three balls to shoot the shots that the game is telling you to shoot for in the order of the songs you played. Making all the associated shots re-scores the value of the associated song.

The thing about Encore - like most insanely hard-to-reach wizard modes - is that it is incredibly impractical to shoot for in competition. Aside from being really hard to reach, the strategy for reaching Encore is basically to ignore massive jackpots and focus exclusively on finishing your songs, using multiballs solely as a means of facilitating song completion. But if you're playing for score, just sticking to Hells Bells and never changing it will be much more profitable than changing your song every time just to complete all the songs.

Hopefully, this guide has helped you wrap your head around AC/DC a bit. It’s a complicated game for sure, but one that definitely promotes experimentation. If you find a strategy that works for you, feel free to reach out since I’m always interested in hearing about new ways to play. Best of luck!