Hey everyone, first I just want to say how much I appreciate all of you and the help you give random surfers like me. Im a sound engineer and a music teacher working in the NYC area. I perform live with my band once or twice a month and recently have been having issues with my guitar. I purchased an Aria Pro 2 'The Cat' 2-3 years ago. Having been using it as my primary axe. It never really gave me too many issues, though it always seemed to have some minor issues involving the middle and neck pickup sounding weak. Now my volume pot crackles when I turn it and Im feeling like the bridge pickup is losing strength. Like it's not sending a strong signal. I really have to play hard to pull bends and solos out of my guitar. Which sucks because I love soloing.

I'm debating wether to go out and buy myself a quality guitar, seeing how I'm moving further in my career as a musician or if I should maybe go the cheaper route and buy new pickups and pots for the guitar I'm using now? I love the feel and weight of the Cat, but it must have never been designed to be a quality axe. I've lowered the action so low that I can't set the intonation correctly, it's like the bridge must be an aftermarket piece. Though my action is extremely low it just won't go low enough to allow me to position the saddles properly. Soloing on the higher strings feel unresponsive, is it the action or the pickups? I'm rattling my brain on this...

If I do get a new guitar I want a good strat or tele. Something dependable that I know I can jam out some old school punk rock and metal solos on. Will a strat do me justice?

Before I forget, I use Ernie ball power slinky strings. The 11s. Thanks for reading.
Thanks for the sound advice, I feel you on that. I imagine a quality axe just playing real smooth and built properly so as to allow a correct setup. Funny cause I did pop a string playing live once and I scrambled to get it restrung. Missed the song but jumped back into action on the next one. There's a moment of grave disappointment when you feel it break haha. A back up would really help.
Just wanted to mention that I decided to purchase a Duncan JB pickup and some deoxit contact cleaner. I want to take some pictures or video to do a before and after. I've also decided to cut the springs just before the saddles. This will help me lower my action on the high E, at the moment the saddles are completely pressed back against these little springs. No harm in halfing them with some trimmers I think.