I have looked around for the notes or chords to play the typical three note (wah wah wah) fail sound effect. I believe it's typically played on a trombone which gives it that great slide effect. In trying to recreate this on a guitar it seems that any dissonent chord would work. For example, I took a D9 (xx0210) and moved it to the 4th fret and simply slid it down in half steps. It sounds close and can be done with nearly any open chord shape. The D chord variation just sounded best to me. Does anyone know if there's an "official" way to play this on the guitar?

  • I believe this effect on a brass instrument is called a "falloff".
    – user1044
    May 31, 2012 at 15:36
  • @WheatWilliams, I could be wrong, but from what I know that's used more in jazz, and is a descending riff from a single note used for effect, usually in the trumpets using a half-valve technique. We occasionally get it in the bone section, but have to be careful not to get to "glissy." All of the "fail" sound effects I have heard have used short glissandos upward to each target note, and then move down by semi-tones. I'm not sure there's any better description than the "fail sound!" May 31, 2012 at 16:30
  • I toyed a bit around and I find a descent in tritones to sound quite "fail". For instance <Eb A> <D Ab> <Db G>. May 31, 2012 at 18:42

2 Answers 2


When played on a trombone, it's just single pitches, as you can only play one pitch at a time on a trombone (excluding multiphonics). I gliss (slidey-effect) up to Bb, then A, then Ab, then G, with a molto ritardando from just before the Ab to the G, then give some slide vibrato on the G. It's pretty simple; all about feel.

On guitar, you can try to bend the notes a half step up… so fret an a, but bend up to the Bb, then fret an Ab but bend up to the A… I'd try that if you're using an electric, but (at least for me) it'll take some effort to smooth out the effect. If that doesn't work, see how a slide from the fret below sounds. I don't have my guitar with me, or I'd try it out. An effect pedal (don't ask me which, I play acoustic) may help to thicken up your tone to sound more like a trombone.

What you did may also sound alright, it just depends what sound better to your ear. I personally hear it as single pitches, not chords.

  • This works quite well if you bend the note up as you say, but also play the 3rd above (without bending it) - this does give a nice dissonance that seems to work.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    May 31, 2012 at 15:44

You're own description of the fail sound---"(wah wah wah)"---gives a big hint: use a wah pedal. I'd play around with the tremelo bar too, if you have one. I think, although I haven't actually tried it, that rather than falling off the note after the attack, I'd depress the bar before the attack and release it. But again, play around with it and see what works best.


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