Lisa, the point is not that everyone will be able to reach every single possible chord on an instrument with a 30" VSL, but that you don't know what you are capable of until you try. And I don't mean try once, I mean try every day for a year or more. My first dulcimer had a 28" scale length. When I first got it, I could neither stretch to the 1-2-4 chord or scrunch my fingers into the 6-5-7 chord. The muscles in my fingers just wouldn't do it. But instead of immediately trading my dulcimer for a shorter one (which would probably have a less rich tone, less volume, and less sustain), I kept playing. I faked that 1-2-4 chord by playing a a 1-0-1 chord instead and I rarely ventured up the fretboard to those skinny frets. But two years later, I was able to play both of those chords with ease. The muscles in my fingers had to become both more flexible and stronger, and that happens when you play.
If you did exercises with your left hand, the pain you feel now from stretching to 8" would eventually subside, and you might indeed be able to stretch that way comfortably. And remember my point that other issues affect our reach as well. If you have very low action, stretching for a chord will be much easier than if you have high action and have to press down with lots of pressure.
I cannot do the splits. But there is no doubt that if I started doing stretching exercises, eventually I would be able to. Along the way I would stretch enough that it would hurt, but eventually I would develop the flexibility and strength to do it. The length between my feet when doing the splits might not be as long as other people who are taller than I am (which is most, for I'm only 5'6"), but until I spend the time stretching, I have no idea what my limit would be.
We all have our limits, and you are certainly correct that some people have longer fingers than others. But the point Rob made here is that people should not give up too early on longer instruments without giving their hands time to stretch and strengthen.
When I was a kid learning the guitar, I, too, thought that I could never do barre chords. Even the barre across the B and E strings that's necessary for a simple F chord seemed impossible. But one summer I decided to attack the problem. I would push my index finger down with my right hand to force it into position. It hurt. I forced myself to hold some of those (painful) positions as long as I could. I did that many times every day. Little by little the pain went away, and little by little the muscles in my finger strengthened, and by the end of the summer I was playing barre chords with ease. What is necessary for barre chords is not a long finger, but sufficiently developed muscles in our finger. Theoretically someone might have a finger that is too short to reach across the guitar fretboard--but toddlers and midgits aside--I don' t think there are many.
No one is born with a pinky strong enough to depress a heavy bass string and get a pure sound. Some people try and decide that their pinky can't do it and they never use their pinky. Others work on it and eventually develop the strength to play. The lesson that Rob is trying to impart is to not decide "I can't do something" without genuinely taking the time to work on it.
There's a guy I see at local dulcimer events a few times a year. He plays a McSpadden Ginger tuned to DAd because he says his hands are too small for a full-sized dulcimer. But when we held our hands together, he realized that his hands were much longer than mine. I tried to convince him to get a bigger dulcimer for tuning in D and tune his Ginger up to G or A where it belongs. He decided that he's been playing too long (over ten years) to make the adjustment now. Maybe he's right. Ten years is a long time to things one way. But I bet ten years ago had he stuck it out with a full-sized dulcimer, he would be able to play it perfectly well.
Dusty T., Northern California
As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie