It is constructed from 17 bamboo pipes, each with a metal free reed, mounted vertically in a windchest. Traditionally the saenghwang's windchest was made out of a dried gourd but nowadays it is more commonly made of metal or wood. In contrast to other Korean traditional instruments, it is not well known today, even in Korea, and very few musicians are able to play it. It is used primarily in chamber music, usually in combination with instruments such as the danso (vertical flute) and yanggeum (hammered dulcimer) although bands such as Arirang Frontier and Orgasm (오르가슴) have been known to employ it in a fusion setting. The instrument was referred to historically as saeng (笙).
Gisaeng (Korean female entertainers) are often depicted playing saenghwang in old Korean paintings.