RE: 1st Center Pin Rod
Hopefully someone has contacted you by Pm but if not I can maybe give a couple ideas though I am far from an expert. I initially bought a sheffield reel but had no idea what rod I wanted. The first year I used a 11 foot Gander Mt. crappie rod and it worked fine but was a little heavy. It came with all small guides but this didn't seem a problem to me. It was only like $30 at Gander and the salesman told me try it as a CP rod and if I didn't like I could return it. I used it perhaps 4 or 5 times that winter and did eventually return it for full credit with no problem. I never removed the plastic from the rod grip and kept the receipt and Gander kept their word.
I then found a Quantum ? coldwater centerpin rod on ebay for $50 and I bought and used it with no problems. I'm not sure what their normal price is/was. The next year I found a Sheffield 3 piece 13 foot rod that was marked down to $100 and they also had 25% off all sale items. I'm still using this outfit with no problems. The 3 piece is nice for transport but the rod is tip heavy even with 3 or 4 ounces of lead epoxied into the rod butt.
I doubt if I will buy another rod but I'm sure some of the better rods are probably lighter and have better rod components. I'm just not sure if I'm a good enough fisherman to be able to tell the difference. I would also feel a lot better if I break a $75 rod than one that costs several hundred dollars.
If you can wait till steel head season gets going perhaps you can meet up with someone with a pin and try theirs. I will start using mine once the crowds thin out around deer season and you are welcome to meet up with an amateur like me if you want.