I don’t know that there’s anything I can particularly add to the discussion, but since you’re asking for experiences, I’ll share mine.
For practical purposes, I started fighting games with KoF XI on a pad. I’m pretty sure I played until my fingers bled. I’m not sure what exactly possessed me to wanting to switch to stick, but I wanted to. Oddly enough, I didn’t even know SRK existed until I went researching the process of building my own stick.
I started out, like so many others, on a cheap as free arcade stick of crap. Still, I found it felt way better. Sure, it took a little while to adjust to executing with my wrist rather than my thumbs, but it wasn’t terribly difficult. In no time, I was actually playing better and executing what I wanted; my frequency of “ah crap… that’s not what I wanted” fell rapidly.
Eventually, for a couple of reasons, I sold the stick I poured time and money into crafting and went back to a fight pad. Sure, it works okay, but it just doesn’t feel right to me. So strong is the difference that I actually just purchased a Fightstick from Amazon yesterday.
I don’t regret the money I put into crafting my old stick. The time I put into transitioning from pad to stick was absolutely worth it. Going back to pad? That I regret.
Make the jump. I can’t quite explain it, but playing on a stick simply feels better.