If I am interested in learning how to do all the maintence work (pup swaps, set ups, etc.) and don't want to jack up a nicer guitar am I better off getting a First Act or some used beater like a bronze level BC rich. I'm pretty sure if I check craigs list and ebay I can get some low level thing like that for 50 or so pretty easy. Any suggestions?
Squier Strats are usually a good start. Since all of the electronics are mounted to the pickguard you can work on stuff outside of the guitar itself and they're usually routed to accept just about any combination of pickups. I got one for tooling around from GC for $99 used and it's been pretty good so far.
Came here to recommend a cheap strat also.
If it is more for messing with then playing then you should prob check craigslist.