How do I check whether a guitar is solid top or laminated top? Are there any huge differences in the sound and appearance so that I can differentiate between them? I want to buy a solid top guitar and I don't want to get fooled by the guitar sales person. Please help.
Look at the edges of the soundhole. If the top is laminate, the soundhole will look like a sandwich. If the top is solid, the grain pattern will continue. More at this link. http://sixstrings.com.my/the-3-acoustic-guitars/
Looking at the edges of the soundhole is the best method; in addition, you can look at the grain of the soundboard: cheap laminates usually aren't made to be good looking, often they use lower quality woods, if you see nice spruce patterns it's probably solid; also, the bracing on a solid top is different, but that has to be judged by a luthier. Anyway, the difference in sound between a solid and a laminate is big, if you confront the guitar with any other in the price range 200-300$ (in that price range usually all guitars are solid-top) I think you can hear by yourself the difference.
If this is not enough, you can always check the producer's website, or contact them. They don't lie.
In addition: even though is true that the sound, and not the construction, is the main factor when choosing a guitar, there are other things to consider. Solid wood is stronger than cheap laminate and resist better to the tension of the strings (this may not be true for good laminates but I think it's not your case). Also with a solid top the tone will improve over time and the instrument will respond more to ambient variations (which is not necessarily a good thing). In this price range there's plenty of alternatives, choose according to your needs.
I had an RD8C Alvarez acoustic which cost between $200-$300 new and it had a laminated top. You couldn't tell if it was laminated top just by looking at it. It had a box sound. I had it for 20 yrs. and the top never changed color and the sound never improved. The sound was the same as it was when it came out o the box. Unlike a Martin D-28 that I have. Nevertheless I liked the guitar it had onboard electronics and had its distinctive sound. However, most laminate guitars sound weak when played next to a solid wood guitar. Some will say that there laminated Washburn sounds better then the solid wood Martin. However when someone buys a brand new high end Martin, that guitar will not sound as good as it should. That is the worst it will sound. As time goes by and you play the heck out of it the top wood will expand and change color as it ages, the guitar (as they say) will open up and start to improve in tone. That is the benefit of a solid wood acoustic guitar. And that is why those old Martins cost a fortune. Unlike the laminated guitar, Laminate is a nice word for plywood. The glue between the layers can break down, therefore creating tonal problems. Laminated wood does not expand or change color so what you hear out of the box is what it will always sound like for ever. Sure of course not every one can afford a high end Martin but Martin also makes guitars made of laminated materials which they call HPL (high pressure laminate) which sound great and are affordable and you still have a quality guitar with a quality materials and a quality name.