So after making some post and reading replies, I feel like I need to clarify how the construction of the guitar affects it in the long run. I am really concerned about laminate construction (HPL). All of the guitars I have been looking at have laminate on the back and sides. Many of these guitars have been recommended to me and some I have been warned against because of this (Martin DX1). First, how exactly does this affect the guitar? Does it compromise durability or sound? Second, what should I look for to avoid “bad” laminate guitars? Please explain! Thanks so much in advance!
If you just want a cheap guitar to screw around with, laminate is cool. One of my acoustics is an Alvarez Ad60k. It is all laminate, and sound wonderful. Unless you are recording or performing live, you shouldn't worry too much about it unless you have the money to buy an all solid wood. If you have any extra money, I am talking about thousands of dollars, I would buy a vintage, 1975 or earlier, solid wood guitar. They hold their value more and actually increase in value. It's a really good way to try out different brands and models. I have been doing it with guitars and medium cameras for a while, and I have had the opportunity to try out a lot of nice guitars for as long as I have wanted.
The main difference between laminates and solids is their aging characteristics. Laminates won't be able to age the way an all solid wood guitar can because the wood can't flex and resonate the same, the laminate plies prevent that from happening. What laminates excel at is the ability to remain constant. The way your guitar sounds now is pretty much the way it will sound in 10 years. With an all solid wood guitar, this will change over the years, becoming, in most cases, much better.
HPL will hold it's own no matter what. It's not really even wood. It has wood components, but it's really a goopy glue stuff mixed up with some wood fibers then pressed out to form the shapes, and finally getting a laminate exterior stuck on it. This stuff is not going to change it's sound qualities, period.
Also worthy of noting is that the HPL used in the Martin X series is different from the "laminate back and sides" you see on so many other guitars. When you see "laminate back and sides" this means that the back and sides of the guitar are essentially made of plywood. The X series guitars by Martin are made of the HPL which LeftyDave describes above.