Medieval paintings in churches suggest that the instrument was spread all over Sweden. The instrument was practically extinct by the middle of the 20th century; the instrument that today is referred to as Swedish bagpipes is a construction based on instruments from the western parts of the district called Dalarna, the only region of Sweden where the bagpipe tradition survived into the 20th century.
The bag is notably smaller than that of many other bagpipes. This, however, is no major problem as the pipes require relatively little air. The chanter has a single cane reed and a cylindrical bore, with a range of one octave. It is essentially diatonic (with a melodic ascending A minor--A major with a flat third--scale starting on E) since cross-fingering has little effect.
Common modifications to the traditional model:
- A double hole for the C hole instead of a single one can be bored, one of which can be covered, for example with beeswax, to produce C, and uncovered to produce C#. This makes the key of A major possible.
- The 'tuning hole', a hole traditionally placed on the underside of the chanter and which is used for tuning the bottom note of the chanter (with beeswax to make the hole smaller), can be placed on the top side instead, enabling it to be used as a fingerhole. This adds a low D to the scale.
- A key can be fitted to operate a hole above the usual fingerholes, to give the piper an additional high F#.
The fact that the chanter, with its cylindrical bore and single reed, is extremely unaffected by crossfingering, and that that the drone is tuned to the same note and octave as the bottom note of the chanter, makes it possible to play in a closed or semi-closed manner, enabling the player to quickly play the bottom note in between other notes--since this will blend with the sound of the drone, it gives the illusion of silence, and the possibility to play staccato.