Will definitely take my time on this! I do want that genuine Strat sound (and feel).
I have to first get the closet in my music room where I store my guitars all reorganized so that I can fit another one in there. That’s kind of the deal I have with my wife, I won’t buy more instruments than I can fit in that closet.
And the notion that there is variability in the builds is what I was obliquely referring to by saying the highest priced model would have to be a LOT better than the less expensive ones to tempt me to spend that much. My FNGS (Friendly Neighborhood Guitar Store) has ten Strats from these price points on the wall according to the website, and the nearby Guitar Center has five, with another dozen at a store waaaaay across town (hour-plus drive each way, so it’s a last resort) so whenever I get around to actually test driving them, I’ll have plenty of selection.
I’m not at all against going for something used as well, and will keep my eyes open on the local classifieds, but that’s always hit and miss of course. And frankly my jam-packed work calendar doesn’t give me much flexibility for the various in-person meetups that a private party sale requires. So we shall see…