Cliffy's Pinball Protectors
Review by Kevin Steele
Practically every pinball review I've written has mentioned the potential for damage that can be caused by a flying metal ball in an enclosed area. The kinetic energy of a moving ball is both what defines and curses pinball machines. Without it, you don't have pinball, but because of it you've got to do everything you can to "bulletproof" a pinball machine from damage, especially one that is no longer being made.
Enter Cliffy's Pinball Protectors. A fellow pinball and video enthusiast, Cliffy has designed some great metal protectors, designed to shield different high-risk areas of a game, such as ramps or the edges of drop holes in the playfield. The protectors also hide any existing damage.
I currently own two pinball machines: Bally's Attack from Mars and Doctor Who. Both pinballs have their "Achilles’ heel" when it comes to pinball damage, and both have protectors by Cliffy specifically designed to address these weak spots where most of the damage occurs.
Existing Playfield Damage
For a Bally Attack from Mars pinball machine, the area that needs protecting most is the scoop hole, a section of the playfield that is almost always badly chewed up on these machines.
My Attack from Mars machine already had one of Cliffy's older-style AFM protectors installed, and removing it revealed why: the scoop hole was in pretty bad shape. The need to cover up this worn area and prevent future damage was obvious.
For Doctor Who, the weak spot is the leading edge of the "Time Expander" mini-playfield. While this area is not normally designed for pinball impacts, balls quite often hit the exposed plywood edge when the Time Expander is rising or lowering.
Cliffy's protectors are made from 24 gauge 304 stainless steel, with a 2B finish. The edge bevels are hand ground and filed smooth. Honestly, they are extremely professional looking, not to mention shiny (did I mention I like shiny things?)
Installation of both protectors was fairly easy, with only a minor amount of playfield disassembly required: in the case of Attack From Mars, you need to remove the "cow ramp" from the playfield, and remove the post to the right of the hole. You'll also need to loosen or remove the standup target on the left of the hole from underneath the playfield.
You then drop the protector into place, and bend a small metal tab over on the left bottom edge of the protector while holding the protector flush with the playfield. This tab is then held in place by the standup target when it is reinstalled.
Finally, you simply need to re-mount the ramp post and the cow ramp, and the protector is installed. All in all it was a simple procedure, and took me about 15 minutes to complete.
For Doctor Who, you need to remove the underplayfield trough to loosen the four screws that hold the "ball target" assembly onto the mini-playfield, then raise the mini-playfield and slide the protector into place, lower the mini-playfield, and tighten the target screws (the process would have been fairly easy if my Dr. Who mini-playfield lighting mod hadn't been in the way!)
New and Improved
As I mentioned earlier, my AFM machine already had an earlier version of Cliffy's protector installed when I bought it from a fellow pinball collector. The new protector is, in my opinion, a much better looking and better laid out design.
The new design has a 3/8" flange that completely encircles the exposed area of the hole, making it look much more like a "factory original" component. The difference in appearance, to me, was night and day:
The Final Results
As attractive as the protector is, it's worthless if it affects gameplay. Luckily, it seems "invisible" as far as the ball is concerned: I've been playing AFM with a protector installed for three months, and I have never yet seen a ball be deflected or fail to enter the scoop hole because of the protector, even with a slow moving ball from a light shot or a slow ricochet.
For Doctor Who, the protector looks even more like a "factory original" part. The metal surface hides the ugly plywood edge, replacing it with a brushed steel look that matches the rest of the Time Expander's front.
The protector does not interfere at all with the movement of the Time Expander: in fact, it seems to "smooth" out the contact between the main playfield and the mini-playfield.
Cliffy makes protectors for several different pinball machines, and more are being added all the time. He can even create custom-sized protectors for machines with more extensive damage to cover.
The protectors sell for between $10-55, depending on the machine (the AFM protector is $30). I truly feel that this pinball product falls squarely into the "must have" category: it not only prevents future damage, but also covers up existing damage. Whether your pinball machine is brand new or a much-abused route machine, if Cliffy makes protectors for your pinball, you need them. Recommended by RetroBlast.