I'm not actually a big fan of red tort pickguards... it just sort of worked out that way.
Sister Blue, on the left, is an ash-bodied '07 MIM Deluxe Players Strat with the original Vintage Noiseless pickups replaced by Fender CS Texas Specials, and the original 500k tone pots and .022 uF tone cap replaced by 250k tone pots and a .1 uF tone cap (I'm kind of a traditionalist at heart).
Sister Black, on the right, I just picked up recently because I wanted to experiment with completely tearing a guitar apart and putting it back together to my own specs, and I didn't want to use Sister Blue because I like her the way she is. So, figuring there was a chance I might completely botch the job (this was intended as a learning experience), I decided to go cheap and bought Sister Black, who is (or was) a '92 MIM Strat, for $200 in a local pawn shop. She originally had a white pickguard. Her pots and switch were dirty, her input jack made crackling noises, and she had the usual lame bar-magnet pickups and lightweight tremolo block that you often find in low-end Strats. But her body (poplar) and neck were in good shape, which was all I really cared about. I decided to install Fender CS Fat '50s pickups, new tone caps, a .1 uF tone cap (again), a new bridge, and new knobs. I also have a new input jack and ferrule, but I haven't installed them yet; I managed to fix the jack by just bending the contacts.
I talked with Alfred, the tech at the local GC (and a good guy) to get a few basic questions answered. He was very helpful and added, "You'll learn a lot from this." He was right.
Here are some of the things I learned:
1. Kyser's Dr. Stringfellow Lem-Oil and a stiff-bristle toothbrush are just the thing for cleaning a really dirty fretboard.
2. A Fender-brand Strat pickguard may not perfectly fit a Fender-brand five-way Strat switch. When I mounted the switch, I found that I couldn't quite get it into the neck pickup position. I finally had to use the file on my Swiss Army knife to make the slot a little longer. Fortunately, that file is exactly the right size.
3. New Fender CS pickups have screw holes that are not large enough for the screws that come with them. You have to either use some tool such as an awl to expand the holes, or just push really hard on the screwdriver to force the screw through. Since the screws are not tapered, this is the hard way to do it. Next time I'll use an awl.
4. A new Fender-brand six-screw Strat tremolo bridge will not necessarily fit a Fender Strat that originally had a six-screw tremolo bridge. There are at least two types: Vintage, with 2 3/16" string spacing, and Mexican, with 2 1/16" spacing. Since the screw holes are in line with the strings, a Vintage bridge won't fit a Mexican body. You'd have to fill all six holes and drill new ones, which I didn't really feel like doing.
5. Also, the Vintage bridge costs $100, but the Mexican one only costs $19. However, they are both pretty substantial chunks of metal; the Vintage one is only 2 oz. heavier. (Good thing I bought the Vintage bridge at my local GC; they let me return it.)
6. A new Fender-brand 11-hole Strat pickguard will not necessarily have screw holes in the same places as a Fender Strat that originally came with an 11-hole pickguard. I'm not sure if this is a Mexican vs. American thing, or if something has changed since 1992, but when I placed the new red tort pickguard on the body, only two or three holes were exactly where they needed to be. Some of the others were partly off, and others were off by as much as half an inch or so. Fortunately, the new pickguard fits perfectly around the neck and bridge.
7. To drill holes for pickguard screws, use a 1/16" bit.
8. Wolf tones. Once I got everything together and gave the rebuilt Sister Black a try, I got a weird effect every time I played any note on the third string. The whole guitar seemed to vibrate, and the sound from the amplifier almost sounded like a tremolo effect was in use. After a little while, it occurred to me that with staggered pole pieces, the third string's pole sticks up the highest. The pickups, whose height I had not yet adjusted, were simply too high, causing a magnetic drag on the string. So now I know what people mean when they talk about "wolf tones" being caused by having pickups too close to the strings. I lowered all three pickups and the problem went away.
9. A poplar Strat weighs 2 lbs. less than an ash Strat. Fully assembled, Sister Black weighs 7 lbs. 4 oz.; Sister Blue weighs 9 lbs. 4 oz. (I assume their necks are similar in weight, but I haven't checked.)
10. Fat '50s and Texas Special pickups are both really good, and they both sound like Stratocasters, but the differences are interesting. Fat '50s have a somewhat scooped tone with strong bass and high-end treble. Texas Specials, in contrast, have a bit of a mid boost. I like them both. It would be interesting to swap pickguards between the Sisters to see how the ash and poplar bodies interact with the other pickups, but I'm not going to do that anytime soon. (Though I'm tempted to install small plugs on the wires going to the input jack and the bridge, precisely to make it easier to swap pickguards. Has anyone tried this?)
One last anecdote: I chose the red tort pickguard for Sister Black because I thought it would look cool and different. So, once I had her all put together, I showed her to my daughter, who smiled and said, "Copycat!" I had forgotten that her Squier VM Jaguar bass has red tort on black!
Anyway, I now feel like at least a semi-competent guitar assembler, after more than 30 years of playing... and I now have two Strats! Now if I could just find a cheap Les Paul to experiment on...